Smiting comes naturally to some people, and in Frima Studioâ€™s bouncy little look at the God of Thunderâ€™s early years, we learn about when Thor found his calling. With his hammer and winged helm, he battles birds, spiders and all manner of magical beasts in a cheerful and engaging quest to reach Asgard.
At its heart, Thorâ€™s journey is a nostalgic little side-scrolling button masher, with a few platforms thrown in to break up the battles and a friendly nod to more grown up RPGs. The controls are very straightforward. You move with the D-pad and dodge with the triggers. The face buttons let you jump, and double jump, and also give you quick, strong and magical attacks. Itâ€™s all very generic and familiar, especially if youâ€™ve played any of the cartoon tie-in games that have been made for the pre-teen market over the last ten years.
The game itself is broken up into four different locations, with each area getting a difficulty rating. You start in a village in Midgard, a location with a difficulty of one skull out of a possible ten, and get a quick lesson in the art of goblin bashing. The beginning is simple and after ten minutes or so you should be through the village with a good handle on what the game is all about. You will also have a couple of upgrades and enough experience points to have gone up a level or two.
Once youâ€™ve cleared the first area you get the choice to move to a different location or to go to a higher difficulty in the same location. Staying in the same location means an upgrade in enemies. The enemies that line up to take on Thor are a pretty varied mix. From goblins smaller then the titular deity to massive spiders, skeletal undead, flying banshees, ogres and giants ten times his size. Although the controls are simple, the tougher opponents take both quick fingers and a sensible game plan to take down.
Each of Thorâ€™s attacks has both quick and strong options. To unleash his strong attacks you need to hold down the button, however if you are hit while charging, you will loose the attack. In the case of Thorâ€™s melee strike, charging makes them effective from a distance, changing them into powerful ranged attacks. This is very helpful because his basic ranged attack is his magical strike, and Thor has very limited magical energy. So, to beat the bigger beasts, especially the ones with enough power to take Thor down in a couple of hits, you have to do a lot of dodging, charging strong attacks and conserving magical energy. For a game that feels like it is aimed at a fairly young demographic, some of the enemies are tough.
Adding to the difficulty, Thor is often magically caught in a small challenge area. In these sections he has limited room to move as enemies continually respawn around him. This cuts down his ability to charge strong attacks, making the areas tricky and frustrating. Often you will go from a first meeting with a new and more powerful, high-level monster, to having to take on ten of them simultaneously. At best these areas take a few attempts. But, often you will need to do a bit of grinding, replaying easier locations for experience points or power-ups, before returning to the challenge areas.
However, to balance out the difficulty, the game does have plenty of restart points. Passing these save points fully recharge Thorâ€™s health and magic. At various points there are also collectable power-ups that may carry either limited or permanent effects. The permanent upgrades, generally gifts from his fellow gods, add to Thorâ€™s armour, power and damage. Alternatively, the limited power-ups can make him invulnerable, add stackable percentages to his attacks for short periods of time, or replace small portions of health and magic. The limited power-ups are also occasionally dropped by enemies, although they never seem to drop the ones you need when you need them.
Available for only $9.50, Young Thorâ€™s journey is cheap and cheerful in a retro gaming kind of way and is compatible with both the PS3 and PSP. The simple, bold graphics, tailored for smaller screens, look fine on the living room telly and the soundtrack is not obtrusive or distracting. Although it does have some challenging difficulty spikes (that rule out a straight run through to the end) itâ€™s easy to get into for the younger crowd and will provide some straightforward gaming fun and a few challenges for those a little older.