Thundercats on Nintendo DS is not a good game. It's also a missed opportunity.
See, the recent "Thundercats" cartoon upon which this is based (to be fair, it's currently in limbo, and the toys are currently in clearance bins across the country) was targeted at current audiences and fans of the old series. Had a good game been made, it would have had two potential markets to tap. Not only could it have catered to children and fans of the current cartoon show, but it also could have grabbed the people who've been waiting for a Thundercats console game since the '80s — this reviewer included.
It didn't work out that way. What we got instead was a pile of nonsense.
Thundercats loosely follows the events of the 2011 cartoon show, chronicling Lion-O's quest to recruit a team and defeat the evil Mumm-Ra and his lizard army who have attacked the kingdom of Thundera. You go through six long stages of side-scrolling hacking and slashing, with a limited move set that never changes. Lion-O has a triple-slash combo, a charge attack, a slide, and an aerial downward thrust. You play through the game alternating between platforming — and the screen stopping so you can hack up a few enemies. Repeat until you get to a boss fight.
As you mindlessly hack your way through the stages, you gradually gain the ability to call more of the Thundercats team you know and love for assist maneuvers. With the exception of WilyKit and WilyKat, these are all screen-clearing bombs with overlong animations. The Kit-Kat Duo is there to dizzy enemies while throwing out power-ups, some of which are extra assist tokens. Their assist is both essential and broken. Lion-O also has his own super technique: a huge blast from the Sword of Omens, complete with its own overlong animation. In all, the Hero of Thundera is well equipped.
He'll need to be, too, because he only has one life, and his life bar is akin to a sieve when attacked. Fail, and it's back to the start of the stage. There are no checkpoints. At first, this seems fair given how bog-easy the game starts. Unfortunately, later in the game, badly designed platforming puzzles abound, and you're placed into countless enemy rushes where they've all become damage sponges. As a bonus, Lion-O has some of the worst jumping mechanics, and falling down a pit is instant death. There are also stage time limits in the game, which do not play too nicely with some later bosses. Speaking of the bosses, they're one of this game's few high points. They do lots of damage but only if you're not careful, and they employ tried-and-true movement and attack patterns that are still fun to fight in 2012. In short, they manage to break up the monotony of the main stages.
Even given the game's mechanical shortcomings, the entire experience is further undermined by graphics that would have been below-grade on the Game Boy Advance. Super-small, fuzzy sprites that barely resemble the characters litter your screen amidst drab, uninteresting backgrounds. The sound is even more laughable; grating background music accompanies you on your quest, and every Thundercat has been given the grand gift of exactly one sound clip. Are you a fan of Lion-O's "Thundercats, HOOOO!" line? Great! You'll be hearing it over and over, and it'll be the only thing you hear from him. It gets painful after about 10 minutes.
That's all Thundercats on NDS has to offer, really: pain and some low-resolution screenshots from the TV show as a reward for beating various stages. There's just so little here, and playing through the game amounted to a giant joke. I ended up laughing because I could not believe people still create this sort of thing, even for a licensed title. It's sub-par at its high points and downright infuriating during its low points. It's worse than the A2M-developed GBA/DS cartoon cash-ins. It's even worse than Winx Club: Quest for the Codex —otherwise known as a black hole of madness from which none have ever returned — simply due to its cut-and-paste lack of ambition in all facets of its design.
In a world where development houses like Vanillaware, Wayforward and ska Studios are giving us exceptional examples of the platformer action genre, there is no excuse for this to exist. Stay far away from Thundercats, and let's hope that we can get this right again in yet another couple of decades.
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