While the Norse gods are occupied in their preperations for Ragnarok, Loki’s daughter Hel makes her move. She captures the three Norns (Urd, Skuld, and Bell…er, Verdandi) and sets the world up for domination. The only one capable of stopping Hel happens to be Thor, still a punk kid but a godling nonetheless. Are you a bad enough dude to blast through the hordes of goblins, trolls, giants and undead, defeat the likes of Ratatoskr, Nidhogg & Hel, and rescue the girls?
Note: Young Thor is an original game, available only via download from the Playstation Network.
Young Thor is a 2D sidescroller placed in a 3D environment. This means that although it looks like you could move towards the camera or away, you’re actually stuck on something of a left-right rail. Also, despite the appearance of the game, this is not a platformer; it has much more in common with a beat-’em-up. You can perform quick attacks, slower but more powerful attacks, and shoot a short-range burst of lightning. As you kill monsters you gain XP and levels, meaning young Thor should destroy every monster within sight! Also, hidden throughout the four stages are eight items, each having a permanent and potent effect on Thor. For instance, in the very first stage you’ll find Thor’s winged helmet, which grants him the ability to double jump.
And yes, you did read that right – four stages. There are, however, four ‘versions’ of each stage, with different difficulties or items to pick up.
1. Graphics [Good] The gameplay graphics feel about PS1/PS2 quality, less detailed but fluidly animated. Thor himself changes his appearance as he gains equipment, which is pretty neat. Midgard and Asgard are both pretty cool (the first and final stages), but the second and third are both kind of non-descript. The third stage takes place on the rainbow road to Asgard – true to the mythos, but not the most exciting environment ever. Also, the environments aren’t interactive at all. This is particularly noticeable on Asgard, where Thor leaps across chandeliers that don’t so much as wobble, and there’s even a large bellows that refuse to press down at all. I got the feeling that there were greater plans for the stages initially, but time constraints foiled them. The game still looks decent, however.
2. Game Play [Good] Young Thor has a very interesting format. There are four stages, each with four progressively more difficult variations. If you defeat the easiest version of a stage, the easiest version of the next stage opens up. As the difficulty of bypassing the stages of Young Thor is based not only on skill, but your level and gear, your best bet is to defeat the stages by their difficulty, not by their place in the story sequence. For instance, the first stage has you in Midgard fighting off goblins and giant spiders. The second variation isn’t much different, but with more spiders and higher-level enemies (and is rated difficulty 2). The third variation is also difficulty 2, but has different enemy locations and a new item for Thor. Finally, the fourth variation is difficulty 6 (!!), meaning you should probably work on the other stages before tackling it.
Also, there are a couple ‘boss’ stages, which is just a one-on-one fight between Thor and either the horned squirrel Ratatoskr, the dragon Nidhogg, or Hel herself. The fight with Ratatoskr is pretty fun, but the fight with Nidhogg seemed to drag for me (hint – clobber him just before he does his strafing fire breath for another window of attack!). The battle with Hel is fun, and a few of her attacks are pretty neat.
Plowing through goblins is fun, and you’ll find yourself seeing how fast you can get the end of a stage just because you can – such is the power of a god! However, enemies in the later stages, particularly the banshees and fallen warriors, take much more of a pounding to eliminate. Banshees are irritating because they are airborne and can stun you with their shriek, leaving you helpless against another enemy…like the fallen warriors! These guys regenerate, much like trolls, but have no particular weaknesses. They also wield battleaxes about twice your size, and easily catch you with them as you try to jump to safety. Hell, half the time they spawn with their battleaxe already hoisted over their head, so they pretty much get an auto-hit in on you! These two enemies alone are headache-worthy, but their combined might made me put the game down and walk away for a few minutes to cool down.
Yes, I’m complaining about two specific enemies. That should be telling; there are only seven enemy types in the entire game, not counting the boss characters. This brings me to one of two major complaints, and that is variety. There are some jumping sequences here and there, but none of that is actually challenging. You can explore a bit, but quite often you’ll just run into empty areas and dead ends. The game consists of fighting the same enemies over and over in the same stages (also over and over). If you play the game in short bursts, its repetitive nature might not mean much to you, but if you’re trying to blast through it in one sitting, you’ll inevitably get bored.
My second major complaint is bugginess. I fell through the floor multiple times, found myself walking on thin air occasionally, and was stuck ‘moonwalking’ every other time a giant managed to catch & throw me. This would frustrate the crap out of me were it not so easy to just hit the Start button and hit “Load from Last Checkpoint.” Still, I was appalled when a spinning spikey obstacle pushed me away from the camera and through the floor. (Tip – you’re supposed to just run past them; ignore the fact the ends aren’t spikey, you can’t jump on and ride them!)
The actual combat in the game is okay, although I found myself relying almost entirely on three of the moves – mashing the square button for quick weak attacks (which, while midair, deals about as much damage as the slow but more powerful triangle attack), the ‘ground pound’ (press down & Square while jumping, slams the ground and damages all grounded foes nearby), and the lightning blast (circle button, deals lots of damage with one blast of lightning). The giants are easily the most fun things to kill; they’re impressively big, have satisfyingly epic death throes, and even if they do their snatch & crush attack, a quick God of War-esque button sequence will appear that will get you out of harms way.
3. Grab-Factor [Great] If you’re a fan of the Norse mythos, Young Thor is brimming with the stuff you like. It would have been all to easy to just call the belt you pick up a Power Belt, but instead it’s actually Megingjord. Considering the attention to mythological detail displayed in this title, I’d love to see a sequel using more of the gods. I felt the character designs could’ve used some more work – they look a tad generic, to be completely honest – and Thor appears to have enough of a personality that the scant dialogue underutilizes this asset. Consider me primed for a full-fledged PS3 title, because this appears to have the earmarks of an iconic franchise.
4. Soundtrack [Meh] The title music is catchy. That’s about all I can say for the music of Young Thor, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of existing, not to contribute to the excitement or fun. None of the sound effects are all that impressive, other than the ‘immense’ sound of the giants. Thor only makes noise when he double jumps; I think he shouts “die!” in a very Cartman-esque voice. The banshees actually made me mute the game.
5. Replay Value [Good] Young Thor is made so you play through each stage multiple times, more than just the four variations of each would indicate. Some of the item pickups can be easy to miss, requiring you to scour the stages to make sure you get each of them. There are also fifty achievements to acquire over the course of the game, ten of which are based on your level (which maxes out at level 99). At the pricetag of $5, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.
Overall Game Rating: 2.5/5 [Good]
Genre: Beat-’em-up By: Frima Studio System: PSP/PS3/PSPgo
(Special thanks to Frima Studio for providing the review material!)