The start of the summer movie blockbuster season usually signals the arrival of their requisite videogame counterparts, a genre that Sega has been more than happy to keep filled for some time now. Their latest is Thor: God of Thunder, a multi-platform release for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and DS consoles, and loosely-based on Paramount Pictures’ live-action movie of the same name.
Prior knowledge of the Thor universe isn’t required, neither is having seen the movie that it’s based on – they’re not connected in the slightest, except for the vague likeness of stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. The DS version presents an original story that sees the mischievous Loki tricking his brother Thor into venturing deep within the Nine Worlds to save his childhood friend, Lady Sif, using little other than his mighty hammer Mjölnir and his ability to juggle scores of enemies to their doom to get the job done. While the home console versions are third-person adventures of varying quality, Thor: God of Thunder on the DS is a unique side-scrolling 2D action game developed by WayForward Technologies (Contra 4, A Boy and his Blob). It’s also the rare action game that makes full use of both screens, as you’ll face enemies and gigantic bosses that will have you darting your eyes between both to keep tracking of your next target.
Like its console cousins, the DS version of Thor is essentially a button-mashing marathon using several of its main character’s trademark moves and magic spells. Thor’s arsenal of moves is pretty impressive, as he’s able to jump, melee attack, dash, and even launch ranged attacks towards off (or top) screened enemies. Select moves can even be strung together to form devastating combos that are pretty fun to pull off, such as launching enemies into the air, power-bombing the ground, grappling, or even ripping apart certain areas of the stage and using them as weapons; I loved tearing down giant pillars and smashing them at the throngs of trolls and other baddies throughout. Magic attacks, activated by touching the bottom-screen, add some needed variety to the combat, and you’ll get to upgrade Thor’s power by collecting and using the various Runes scattered throughout for maximum god-like power.
But even with these abilities, combat can still feel like its on auto-pilot, especially since you’ll be able to dispatch almost everything you’ll come across with basic melee attacks. It doesn’t help that you’ll be fighting the same basic enemies over and over (and over), across stages that look different but seldom are; ice, fire, and other themed levels are essentially the same level, and the enemies that come after you are essentially the same as well. Trolls, ice creatures, ghouls, and various flying menaces all swarm and attack the same, and it doesn’t take more than a few hits and juggles-combos to slash through them all.
At least battling against the game’s few gigantic bosses help break things up, offering the game’s most exciting and varied gameplay moments. It’s like WayForward couldn’t resist tossing in a few Contra-style bosses for the fans, even if they are just your standard pattern-recognition fights.
The most impressive thing about Thor on the DS is its visuals, an area that WayForward usually excels in. Everything you’ll see on the screen (or screens) has been gloriously rendered by hand, and looks like a long-lost relative of the DS Castlevania games. Character animation is incredibly smooth, especially on Thor and his many enemies, and the classic gamer in me was delighted to see multi-jointed sprites making up the game’s enormous boss battles. Even the story is told through cartoon-style character portraits (which can be viewed in the menu) and look great, even if they are missing the original voices used in the movie and other game versions.
It’s a shame that so much of the art is reused throughout the levels, which might have been the look they were going for, the game essentially being a 16-bit throwback and all. Giant heads and craggy mountain crevasses look impressive the first time you see them, but not so much on the tenth, or even fifteenth.
Many of you reading this will probably consider the DS version of Thor: God of Thunder to be the best game version of the blockbuster film, especially those looking for a decent-quality 2D action game on the go. The game looks and moves really good, with detailed sprites and plenty of 16-bit quality tricks that should bring smiles to the faces of Castlevania fans everywhere. It’s almost a shame the gameplay isn’t more varied and original, especially as developer WayForward seems to have pulled together an impressive engine that feels weighed down by the trappings of its source material (and obviously rushed production). Still, if you don’t mind slogging through level after level of repetitive action and want to support one of Marvel’s Avenger heroes, you could certainly do a lot worse than this.
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