The next stop on my Marvel Cinematic Universe Nintendo DS journey is Thor: God of Thunder. When I saw that this was developed by WayForward technologies, I got excited. WayForward is known for the Shantae series; a franchise of really good action platforming games. I also wanted to see how a character like Thor could be represented in a video game.
For the most part, the game exceeded my expectations! Let’s talk about it today!
The Nintendo DS version of Thor: God of Thunder is a beat ’em up with platforming elements. Based on the Thor film, this game references a pre-movie non-canon adventure instead. Both screens of the DS are used to depict the game’s really tall stages. You can fly to the upper screen or dive towards the bottom screen at any time. Despite having platforming elements, this game doesn’t feature any pitfalls. Enemies have a lot of health, so you’ll really need to repeatedly attack them to defeat them.
The game’s main mode is Story, where you take on the role of Thor as he leads the Asgardians in fighting off an invasion of his realm. Stages are divided into three areas, and the third area will always end in a boss fight. As you play along, you can unlock additional game modes. There are two gallery modes, one for viewing Runes (more on this later) and one to view the character headshots.
Survival Mode offers endless waves of enemies, and the goal is to survive for as long as you can. Frostgrinder Assault is a minigame depicting a special mission of the Warriors Three. Finally, there’s a mode where you can play as a Warbeast and attempt to roll a boulder as far as you can.
Thor: God of Thunder uses a health meter system and offers unlimited lives (there isn’t even a lives count). When you run out of health, you get sent back to predetermined check points within areas. The game also uses a save system and provides three separate save slots. There’s also a sound test feature where you can play unlocked tracks.
Moves and Abilities
In Thor: God of Thunder, our hero has a lot of moves. He can’t crouch, but he can move to the left or right with the D-Pad. Pressing R will make him roll forward. The B button makes him jump. Whenever Thor is in mid-air, pressing Down + Y will make him do a diving attack, which is useful as an attack or to fly downwards really quickly. If Thor is in the bottom screen, you can press Up + Y in mid-air and he will do a soaring attack. It is the only way to fly up to the upper screen.
Pressing Y makes Thor swing Mjolnir like a club. If you press Up + Y while standing, Thor will do upward swings that launches enemies in mid-air. Pressing Down + Y will make Thor perform downward swings that hits small enemies and enemies lying on the ground. Some enemies can block; against those, you’ll need Thor’s Forward + Y charging attack.
You can throw Mjolnir by pressing X. If you want to throw Mjolnir farther, you can hold the X button down to charge it. This can be performed while standing on the ground or in mid-air. You can use the D-Pad to aim your throw – this works upwards, forwards, diagonally upwards and diagonally downwards. You will use this move often; in fact, the game will require you to hit offscreen enemies with Mjolnir in several stages.
Finally, the A button is for grabbing enemies. You’ll be able to lift normal-sized enemies over your head. You can hit other enemies with them, or throw them at your enemies. How about large enemies? Well, you’ll have to find out yourself!
To earn the title of Thor: God of Thunder, the developers gave Thor screen-clearing special moves called God Powers. Before you can use them, you have to fill up Thor’s special meter. Sometimes, enemies drop energy orbs when they are defeated. Red colored orbs fill up Thor’s health. Blue colored orbs fill up the special meter.
The Special Meter has a marker for it’s midpoint. You can use a God Power as soon as the meter is filled past that point, but the power will only be half as effective (it won’t immediately kill enemies). Using a God Power when the special meter is full will kill all non-boss onscreen enemies. There are three powers available; you can cycle through them using the L button. I didn’t see any notable difference aside from the visual effects (with the exception of the final boss fight).
To use a God Power, you simply have to tap the touchscreen. The default power makes Thor shoot out bolts of lighting from Mjolnir to each onscreen enemy. This is the power I used most often and I can’t believe I wasn’t able to take a screenshot of it. The second power makes Thor summon a strong gust of wind that blows enemies away.
The third and final God Power is the shockwave. It makes Thor send out shockwaves all around him. I think this is the only God Power that will affect the game’s final boss, so don’t forget to switch to it during the final boss battle!
The Rune System
Thor: God of Thunder offers simple character customization via the Rune System. As you play the game, you’ll sometimes find special Runes hidden in columns or floors. There are eighteen Runes in the game, and an area can only have one Rune. There are a total of 21 areas, so only three areas don’t have any Runes.
When you find a Rune, they are immediately added to your collection. Your health is also refilled to maximum. When you pause the game, you can access the Runes menu. There are three different Rune types: head, body, and hammer. You can equip one Rune from each type. Runes can either increase your stats or give you special abilities. Some are quite helpful. It’s best if you can find all the Runes on your first playthrough.
And that’s my biggest gripe with this game. Some of these Runes are easy to miss, and the game doesn’t clue you in on where you could have missed them. I had to replay the entire game from the beginning because I was still missing one Rune when I got to the final boss. Collecting all 18 Runes unlocks the bowling minigame, so I made sure to collect all of them.
As I was playing Thor: God of Thunder, I saw a lot of characters from the film make an appearance in sprite form. I thought that it would be such a waste if they weren’t playable in some way. Well, the Frostbringer Assault minigame scratched that itch for me. Near the end of the Story mode, Odin will send out the Warriors Three on a mission to bring down the Frostbringer. This unlocks the minigame where you can choose to play as any of the Warriors Three.
The minigame itself is very simple. You play a short stage where enemies continuously spawn in sections. Once you destroy the onscreen terminals, enemies stop spawning and you move to another section. After completing the mission once, the game will add Heimdall, Loki, Sif, and a generic Asgardian soldier to the characters you can choose. It’s neat that they added this, but I wish this was a longer minigame, especially after playing as Loki (he’s got some good moves).
The other minigame has you take on the role of a Warbeast. He’ll summon a boulder and kick it forward. Meters for power and direction will appear, and you simply have to time your button press according to these two meters. This would have been a neat addition if the game saved high scores. Since scores aren’t recorded, the minigame is a little meaningless.
The aspect of Thor: God of Thunder that I enjoyed the most are the boss battles. Man, these were really designed well, and the developers chose the right characters as bosses. Their moves and attacks will really test your ability to fly across the upper and lower screen.
Ulik, for instance, is armed with Pounders, weapons that look like brass knuckles. He pounds the ground with these to create shockwaves, and can charge forward at Thor. His attacks are mostly limited to the lower screen. Hela will summon undead knights. You’ll need to balance fighting the knights on the ground and her in the air to survive. She’ll also teleport all around the two screens, so you’ll need to fly really fast to get to her.
But the boss fights that I really loved involve fighting giants. During these sequences, the camera will zoom out even farther, making Thor look very small. Ymir the Frost Giant is the first boss of this kind.
The battle with Surtur is in two phases. You’ll need to destroy his sword first, before you can even attempt to defeat him. Of course, he’ll use the sword against you. The huge sword cuts out large chunks of the lower screen!
These battles definitely captured how it felt to step into the shoes of a Thunder God and fight mythological and extremely powerful beings!
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
Traditional pixel art may not have been popular when Thor: God of Thunder was released, but following that artstyle definitely helped this game age well. Everything looks really good even when viewed through today’s lens! Sprites are incredibly detailed and are animated well, and so are stages and backgrounds. Areas from within realms did look a bit repetitive though, but I’ll forgive the developers since these are mainly barren planets.
In terms of sound, I thought the game was alright. Stage themes are okay but unmemorable. Sound effects are great, especially the ones used for Mjolnir. But the game could have used more audible grunts and voice clips. I guess I can forgive the developers since Thor doesn’t really have any good catchphrases.
As for presentation, it’s all excellent for me. Menus and fonts are clear and easy to understand. The HUD is minimal but functional. Power ups are clearly depicted. And the cutscenes use really good illustrations and have well-written dialogue. I wish the game had a better ending though, because it just ends with all of the characters in Odin’s throne room. Maybe I’ll give the end credits another view – there might be some post credits scenes that I missed out on.
Thor: God of Thunder received mixed reviews when it first came out. I can somehow understand why; people had fallen out of love with beat ’em ups around that time. And the game mechanics do get a bit repetitive if the game is played for long periods. There’s also a lack of content – I was able to beat this game in just seven hours, with all unlockables obtained. The included minigames aren’t deep enough to over real replay value.
But man, this game looks sooooo good. The gameplay captures the character of Thor really well. And the boss battles are worth playing several times. Thank goodness you can replay any area you’ve already beaten – you won’t need to go through the entire game just to revisit the excellent boss fights. I highly recommend Thor: God of Thunder to superhero fans, and especially to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.