Thor: God of Thunder (3DS)

As the latest incarnations of super heroes movies go, Thor wasn’t the worst or best entry thrown into the hat.  Better than Captain America, worse than Iron Man but at least Chris Hemsworth was more or less likable and despite all the CGI – you always had Natalie Portman to look at.  In the end, it all worked out.

But regardless of how good or bad the movies are – the video games based on them typically turn out mediocre at best.  The ones that blatantly steal a working game engine and methodology from a AAA title are usually at least playable.  The rest of the rabble tend to fall into “stuffed into an overused side scroller 3D engine that sucks” category.

When it comes to action adventure gaming, it’s hard to argue with the near-perfect execution of Sony’s God of War series; which is why every other game robs it blind.  Games like the popular console title Wolverine and the latest PC action game Blades of Time work well because they are riding on the shoulders of Kratos and the rest of the Greek Gods. Fortunately, Sega stole fizzy lifting drinks right out of Sony Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when they created Thor: God of Thunder.

If you’re looking for a deep story scenario, you aren’t going to find it here.  Thor (with Loki whispering behind you) battles bad guy after bad guy from the Thor universe.

Yeah, that’s about all you need to know.

Overview

The game starts you off in the icy underworld.  You’ll battle endless hordes of standard “imp” players, trash ice structures (every game has barrels to break open, right?) and refining your God-like powers.  There are middle level management bad guys you”ll take down using both battle and Quick Time Events (think “Medusas” from God of War) and of course, you’ll fight unreal huge 10x bigger than the screen bad guys (this is sounding really familiar, right?)

Unlike the Nintendo DS version (which is a 2D side-scr0ller beat’em up), this is a full 3D world – both in engine and in view.  Like its God of War counterpart, your will be herded to your next location by invisible barriers, drop offs and of course walls of ice.  “Frozen” entrances and exits will “lock you into” combat arenas where you’ll be forced to battle large hoards or destroy x number of items before the freeze seal lifts and you can proceed.

You’ll start off slow – with a nice tutorial level which will get you started learning combos and they will explain what’s going on.  If you’ve played any of these action adventure games, you’ll be right at home.

Thor has three “gauges” you’ll care about; health, magic and combos.  Just like the rest of the God of War ilk, you’ll kill bad guys and bash objects to net “orbs” that fill your health and magic meter.  Executing combos successfully will charge the combo bar.  Once full, the combo bar will “super charge” your magic when you call on it (more on that in a minute).   Again, most of this shouldn’t be anything new to most of you.

There are runes to collect, coins to find for upgrades and of course the hidden unlockables (concept art, costumes, etc).  We’ll talk more about those in a bit.

Combat

Body count is what this game is all about and you’ll have plenty of moves in your arsenal to help you out.  X and Y act as your “light and heavy” attacks, B jumps and A is a burst forward move which is great for trashing environmental obstacles.  Using various combinations of X and Y – on the ground and in the air – will net you all the combat stuff you’ve grown to love.  Fling the bad guys in the air in slow motion, jump up and wail on them, then toss them to the ground and pound the living crap out of them.  You can unlock MORE combos with coins – and some combos you can do without unlocking them – if you’re clever enough to figure them out.

The L button acts as your shield – offering you parry moves and “just in time” deflection of projectile objects (send them back to the shooter).  R button acts as a modifier – allowing you to use Y and X in different ways (throwing hammers, causing “force push” type wind storms, etc.)

You’ll be pleased to know that none of the straight combat actions require the touch screen – only magic uses the lower screen to execute.

As previously mentioned, executing flawless combos charge up your combos meter – and when it tops off,  you’re magic abilities temporarily increase.  More on that below.

Magic

There are five magic “spells” you can tap on the bottom screen – provided your blue meter has enough “mana” in it.  The first two consist of a giant lightning storm which affects all surrounding enemies and a “super hammer” charger that increases the damage done to your enemies temporarily.   I haven’t unlocked the other three yet.

If your combo meter is full, your magic items change from white to red – meaning you get a one-time “super” use of that magic spell.  Your lightning storm is lethal and your hammer becomes the ultimate death dealer.  Once you use it, your combo meter depletes and you have to earn it again.

Runes, Coins and Unlockables

From time to time you’ll find runes.  These are magical rocks that give you special modifiers – extra power when your health is below 25%, more damage to enemies in the air … that sort of thing. It appears there are 20 runes to find, and you can have up to four active at a time (only one “slot” is open in the beginning of the game).  Some runes are visible for pickup, others are hidden and must be found.

Coins allow you to unlock upgrades from one of three categories – Might, Valor and Storm.  Each one upgrades combos, stats (like health and magic meters) and magic.  You have to unlock these things in order and one coin is required per upgrade.  Like runes, coins must be found scattered hidden on the levels.

Unlockables are orbs usually place on ‘off-path’ locations – just pick them up and they are yours.  Costumes can be unlocked and worn (looks like 5 total), concept art (a lot) and more are available as collectibles.

Environments

Along with the standard 3D engine game play, you’ll also get some flying sequences.  One is much like a Star Wars Trench Run meets Cabal.  You’ll fly, trying to avoid structures, blow up projectile shooting “towers” and the flight will stop for you to deal with a particular nasty mess of bad guys or obstacle – then the flight resumes.  You’ll also have the classic “fly through the tunnel at high speeds” bit – avoiding random obstacles; again, nothing you haven’t seen before.

I’m sure others exist, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Quick Time Events

To take down medium level bad guys (aka Medusa) you’ll need to finish them off with a QTE – executed button presses and D-Pad taps.  Fail, and you’ll have to fight them again and take some damage to boot.  You’ll use L + R tapping to break yourself out of sticky situation (being frozen, being crushed, etc).

The graphics look the best during QTEs – probably because of the complete control over the camera they can have.  Some of the QTEs feel very “Dragon’s Lair” (meaning they make sense – and aren’t just randomly thrown together) and that’s not a bad thing.

How Does It Look?

This is a first generation 3DS game – and it shows.  The ice environments are a bit drab (I mean, even more drab than even ice should be).  Surface and city levels shown in the trailer below look to be better off – but I wouldn’t say these are “great graphics”. But the graphics are totally servicable and get the job done – but they certainly aren’t the best the 3DS can kick out.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the game is the frame rate.  While rock steady (which is more important to me – I get nauseous if game frame rates change too much), you’re talking about 30fps – maybe a couple notches less.  While there is a certain group of players that won’t even notice, those playing these sort of games regularly on big screen consoles are going to notice right away.  Fortunately, you’ll get used to it after a couple levels and it won’t even bother you – but it would be irresponsible for me not to mention it.

The game keeps the camera pulled back a lot of the time – and that keeps the graphics small and a little light on details.

Fortunately, the slightly lackluster of visuals don’t get in the way of the fun game play (and isn’t that what gaming should be about?)

The game has some very nice cut scenes – both rendered and engine-driven.  They have excellent voice over work by some of the original actors and are a notch about what we typically see on Nintendo handhelds.  The rendered cut scenes can be skipped, but the engine ones cannot.

How Does It Sound?

There is nothing extraordinary about the sound assets.  In many cases, the music almost seems to unnaturally cut out – but I can tell it is by design.  As previously mentioned, the voice over work is top notch and the residual sounds are utilitarian; they get the job done, but there won’t be any awards being issued for this title.

On a stronger note – some of the surround sound effects used are very well done.

How is the 3D?

You can tell the developers weren’t really paying a lot of attention to the 3D.  Every now and then, you’ll see some remarkable uses of it – but otherwise it is pleasant enough without being overbearing.  There are a few non-combat moments that the 3D gets too “hot” and gets too strong – but it is hardly worth mentioning.  At least, you won’t find yourself constantly messing with the 3D slider while you play.

Anything else?

There is no way to change the flight scene controls to Inverted Y-Axis.  This is a HUGE problem for me personally – because I’m so used to UP making you dive and DOWN making you rise.  The “speedy tunnel” sequences are nearly impossible for me to execute because of this.  It’s not a show stopper, but be ready to deal with flight scenes without it.

For those of you wondering if there are God of War puzzles in this game?  I haven’t seen any so far.  Pure beat’em up.

A rather unique feature I found on this title was that you can change the difficulty level at any time.  Nice touch.

Final Thoughts

Like many people, I thought this would be just another shovelware IP crap title.  When the price dropped to $19.99 new and $17.99 used – I got interested.  My son LOVES super hero games and being used, I can return the game for a full refund if nobody in the house will play it.

We talked about the game on Google+ and everyone loves the Nintendo DS version; so I figured I’d grab my $5 off coupon, break out my 10% off PowerUp card and pick the the game up for $12.

I am certainly not disappointed with the title.  It has some weak areas but it is a great portable God of War clone with solid controls and considerable amounts of playtime and unlockables to keep you going back.  It belongs in every serious 3DS collection – especially at the price point. I’m guessing we’ll see the tile show up in Target’s close out bin for $9.98 soon which would make this a real bargain.

My rating?  The game deserves 3 out of 5 tikis, but I have a soft spot for the genre – and having a portable God of War clone on my Nintendo handheld makes me up the final score to 4 out of 5.


About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+