Sega's track record with Marvel-licensed games hasn't exactly been the most promising. The first Iron Man game felt like a mess, and while Iron Man 2 was an improvement, it wasn't exactly decent. The best of them thus far was The Incredible Hulk, but the rampant destruction you could cause just wasn't enough to pull the title from tedium. With at least two more contractual titles (three, if they managed to tie up "The Avengers"), Sega hopes to turn things around in the eyes of gamers and critics alike. The latest game, Thor: God of Thunder, leans more toward The Incredible Hulk than Iron Man in terms of quality, and it doesn't hurt that the title is just a little fun.
Thor carves out its own plot instead of borrowing elements from the movie. The land of Asgard is under attack by the frost giants of Ymir, and as Thor, son of Odin, it's your responsibility to stop them. As expected, you defeat them but at a terrible cost, as you fail to save Sif, one of the better soldiers you know. Filled with grief and anger, you demand to start war with Ymir but are banned from doing so by your father. With the help of your brother Loki, you get the revenge you seek, but you pay the price by awakening the Mangog, a living weapon created by Odin that has gone mad with rage. You take it upon yourself to stop the weapon before it's too late.
If you're familiar with the character, you won't be surprised to learn that the game is a brawler, pure and simple. It also takes a few pages from some recent adventure games, so you spend a majority of your time bashing enemies to a pulp while earning experience. You finish off bosses with Quick Time Events that are pretty interesting to watch, despite the lack of blood. You start off with some weak and strong attacks, a lightning stun and the ability to throw your hammer, but you can also use your gained experience to buy new moves and increase your stamina and special move meters.
The above sounds familiar, but the developers tried to be innovative, and it shows in the combat system, especially through the use of the combo meter. Unlike other games, where higher combos translate into more experience points, a higher combo meter in Thor means the ability to unleash more devastating moves. Each combo requires a certain number of consecutive hits to be strengthened, but the results — wider area of effect and increased damage — make it worthwhile for players to achieve the high combo numbers. Also of interest is that the combo system is rather generous in that it only resets if you haven't hit an enemy after some time, instead of resetting once you are hit. It makes for a less frustrating experience should you be surrounded by enemies while you're trying to reach your own goal of putting more powerful moves into play.
While the game is mostly a brawler, the developer decided to change things up and introduce flight, which is exclusive to the Wii version. In a few levels, you can fly through the environment and unleash lightning bolts or deflect enemy attacks. The levels are presented in a manner similar to After Burner, where you're flying toward the screen while enemies come at you or are stationary while attacking. Unlike that game, though, your character movement and reticle movement are independent, so you don't need to be in the path of fire to successfully shoot down an enemy. The levels are fun, but they're only long enough to provide a good break from hand-to-hand combat.
The gameplay is solid on paper but has some problems. For one, the game is purely structured on room-to-room combat. The fighting is exciting, and the flight levels break up the monotony, but when you realize that just about every level is structured in a certain way so that you fight off enemies and spend time traveling to another room only to fight some more, the feeling of déjà vu begins to set in. There aren't any puzzles or platforming challenges between fights. With the game placing a good amount of emphasis on combat, it's strange to see that you don't need the plethora of moves and combos to beat the game. You want the life and power upgrades, but you can do fine with your basic repertoire of moves.
The game is a four- to five-hour journey, and you unlock another difficulty level after you beat the game. None of that matters, though, when you discover that you can change the difficulty level as you play, and the change can be done at any time. It sort of cheapens the experience because you're able to flip on the highest level when things go fine, lower it for tough areas and boost it back up after the big fights. It also sours the idea that you'd want to challenge yourself by replaying the game at tougher difficulty levels, unless you can discipline yourself to not take the easy way out of tough situations.
As expected, there are extras beyond the main adventure. If you didn't get enough of the fighting, you have a slew of combat arenas in which to keep fighting. There's nothing really spectacular about them, but they give you something to do once you beat the story and don't want to go through it again on a different difficulty level. There's also concept art for characters and levels to collect, and there are alternate costumes so you can dress up Thor in the comic outfits that you've seen through the years. The best extra, though, is a full episode of "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" featuring Thor. The episode isn't bad, but it is a nice and unexpected extra in the game.
The controls are mostly hit instead of miss. Basic combat is usually handled by the A button, but a number of the stronger moves and combos involve swiping the Wii Remote or Nunchuk to activate. Specific swipes initiate specific moves, and while most games seem to have trouble with this kind of setup, Thor handles it just fine because of a generous detection system that doesn't really require precision to properly execute the moves. It's not so lax that you can simply shake the remote like crazy and initiate every possible combo, but it provides some leeway to ensure that a swipe in a specific direction doesn't have to be precise in order to be read. The only direction it doesn't seem to read well is the upward swipe used for pop-up attacks. They do initiate, but it feels like you need to do more than one upward thrust to get the system to recognize the move. Other than that, the rest of the scheme doesn't feel problematic.
Continuing a trend in most modern multiplatform games, the graphics on the Wii are vastly different from what you'll see on the other HD consoles. Instead of going for photorealism, the team decided that it would be better to go for a more subdued comic book look. It works out rather well; the colors aren't as bold as expected, but nothing blends into obscurity, either. Particle effects, like snow falling and sparks being emitted from lightning blasts, are bigger but more meaningful with this style in play. Environments look good considering the hardware being used. Don't expect to be wowed by the places you fight in, but in the same respect, you won't be underwhelmed.
Movement and fighting animations are nicely done, and while lip sync is spot-on most of the time, you will see instances where lips move out of sync with the dialogue or voices. The human characters look fine, but nothing really stands out when it comes to enemies. They all look menacing, but there's nothing particularly memorable about them. The exception to this rule would be the bosses, which are truly menacing due to their larger-than-life stature. There would be more praise given to the graphics, but the single element that takes this down is the unstable frame rate. It slows to a crawl when the screen is flooded with enemies and projectiles, and it seems to stabilize when there are only a few enemies around. It's perplexing, though, to see the frame rate struggle during cut scenes and when nothing is really going on. Tightening this to a consistent 30 frames per section would have gone a long way in making the game look much better.
The sound is great in some parts and mediocre in others. The voice acting performances for Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are great, as they properly convey their characters and emotions without sounding like they're phoning things in. The performances for the other actors are just as good, with no real surprises standing out among the cast. It's solid overall and a template for how voice acting in licensed games should be done. The effects are well done, with no gaffes like volume or static spikes detected. Every hit feels solid, and lightning strikes feel strong because of adequate volume. The musical score is rather good at providing an epic feeling for every battle. While it is pleasing to the ear, the biggest issue is that it sounds like the same beats and chords repeated over and over again within a short period of time. There's no variety to the pieces, and while it sounds great at first, the score later becomes too repetitive, so they player may tune it out as he goes through the game.
Despite its predictable layout, Thor: God of Thunder is a pretty decent brawler. The combat is well done, and the boss fights, while predictable in terms of how they finish, feel epic in scale. When it doesn't suffer from frame rate issues, the game looks good, controls fine and sounds nice — once you tune out some of the repetitive pieces in the musical score. It may not be a long or deep game, but it is fun while it lasts. It's a good rental for action fans and a decent buy for die-hard fans of the Marvel character.
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