Thor: God of Thunder Review (DS)
Viking warriors used to believe that upon death, Odin would hand-pick the best of them to join the ranks of his army in Valhalla. These warriors were to be trained rigorously in preparation for Ragnarok and engaged daily in glorious combat so as to best defend the realm once the final battle came. Knowing that these Vikings saw the promise of mindless repetitive combat as their reward in the afterlife, I can only imagine how pleased they would be with Sega's Thor: God of Thunder for the Nintendo DS, which despite some promising elements devolves into the realm of plodding button-mashers.
Movie tie-in games have earned a reputation for sucking ever since E.T. first saw release on the Atari 2600. Corners are cut to finish a game in time for the film's launch, and since developers know the game will sell on the strength of its license alone, publishers don't always push for a high quality title. Thor: GoT comes off as a surprisingly well-polished game thanks to the help of seasoned DS developers WayForward. This is the team responsible for the beautiful DS platformer Contra 4, and Thor definitely benefits from their graphical expertise. As a fan of traditional 2D sprites, I was blown away by Thor's attention to detail. Even minor enemies were impressive in their design and animation.
You can't build a game on good graphics alone, and while Thor tries a few creative tricks, the bulk of the game is a simple beat-em-up with few thrills. The main problem is how linear the game is, each stage presenting a simple quest from the left end of the stage to the right with a shoddy variety of battles in between. It's unfortunate how mundane the game is because the combat system in Thor is one of the most impressive ever seen in a 2D brawler. Bad guys fly about the multi-level battlefields with each hit of Thor's hammer, the warrior jumping from screen to screen in pursuit of his foes. With the incredible range of moves Thor offers, players have no shortage of ways to savagely destroy their opponents. Juggling as many as eight bad guys at a time, I started to crave a combo counter to keep track of the carnage and wondered if perhaps the developers were at all influenced by the famous Japanese developer Treasure.
As thrilling as combat is the first time, it never changes. Thor never learns any new moves and is rarely confronted with an enemy that he can't defeat with the same standard tactics. The real excitement of the game comes from the boss battles--epic struggles against massive foes that often extend onto both screens. These boss battles were the only real payoff for playing the game, and with each stage lasting maybe twenty minutes, the short moments of glee that came from punching out the heart of a giant ice golem weren't enough to justify the experience.
Despite the monotony, Thor does offer a few solutions to try and spice up the experience. As players progress through the game, they discover a variety of mystical runes, all of which boost Thor's stats. These buffs range from typical "+25% strength" bonuses to more interesting effects such as an additional 50% damage to downed enemies and even special abilities such as a concussive shockwave that stuns surrounding enemies every time Mjolnir (Thor's hammer) is thrown. These add some interesting variety to the gameplay, allowing players to tailor Thor's abilities to their own play style. A number of extras are also packed within the little cartridge, including a survival mode, a picture gallery for all the game's incredible art, and several of Thor's allies, who are offered as unlockable characters. Though none of these make the main game much more enjoyable, they're at least nice to have. Besides, few gamers have had the chance to play as Thor's obese buddy Volstagg, so the extras are a definite plus.
While it's not a perfect game, there's a lot to like about Thor, and it definitely isn't worthy of the bargain bin treatment that less ambitious licensed titles receive. If you're looking for a great gift for a young fan of the movie or you're a diehard Thor fan yourself, then this game is sure to be a (thunder) blast. For the regular gaming crowd, there's not enough meat here to justify the potatoes. Still, it's definitely a great attempt from WayFoward, and I'll be checking out their recent DSi release Mighty Milky Way in the near future.