Review: Thor: God of Thunder

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Thor is the ‘God of Thunder’, but is he also the god of superhero movies and licensed video game tie-ins? No, I’m afraid he is not. Well, I don’t know about the movie side of things (the reception has largely been positive from what I’ve heard), but he most certainly does not achieve god status in his first solo video game.

Sega dumps out another Marvel movie tie-in turd with Thor: God of Thunder, the new action/adventure game released on DS, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 last week alongside the new film starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, and Anthony Hopkins. I’ve played through the Wii and Xbox 360 versions, and sadly neither one escapes the movie game shovelware stigma.

The Wii version, developed by Red Fly Studio (Mushroom Men), and the Xbox 360 version, developed by Liquid Entertainment (Rise of the Argonauts), both follow the same general storyline, and their common beat-‘em-up gameplay approach is a poor man’s attempt to mimic games like God of War and Devil May Cry. But from that similar starting point, the two games go in slightly different directions, with the Wii version actually delivering the better experience for a change. That doesn’t make it good, but at least it’s not terrible.

As the God of Thunder himself, you must wield the legendary hammer Mjolnir and fight through beasts and realms of Norse mythology on a quest to save the world of Asgard from the mighty Mangog. On the Xbox 360, the story unfolds in typical cinematic style with in-engine cutscenes, characters modeled in the likenesses of their actor counterparts, and voice-overs, while the Wii version presents its plot in a more appropriate ‘motion comic’ format with spoken dialogue played to static pieces of artwork. Actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston do reprise their film roles as Thor and Loki, but, as is typical for movie games, their performances are sleepy and uninspired.

Neither game looks or sounds particularly pleasant. Liquid Entertainment’s Xbox 360 version runs on Unreal Engine 3 and looks like many third-party Unreal Engine games: dark, metallic, and ugly! Even with the brightness jacked all the way to the max, parts of the game were so dark that I’d fall off ledges and have trouble navigating tight corridors because I simply couldn’t see where to go.

In this instance, working with the less powerful Wii hardware turned out to be a benefit to Red Fly, because instead of being forced to make the game look like the film they were able to be a little more artistically creative and deliver a visual experience closer to the Thor comics Marvel fans know and love. The Wii version is texturally bland and hampered by a chuggy framerate, but otherwise looks the part of a superhero video game with its brighter color palette and ‘comic booky’ presentation.

This creative freedom carries over into gameplay as well. On Xbox 360, Thor is more like the ‘God of Tedium’ than anything else, as the gameplay boils down to pounding on the X button to melee through groups of brainless enemies, occasionally sprinkling in a jump, dodge, hammer throw or special power (Thor is imbued with upgradeable wind, lighting and thunder elemental attacks). Bosses repeat the same patterns from beginning to end – you flail away until you wear them down enough to perform a grapple attack, then rinse and repeat until they’re dead – and are more tests of endurance and patience than challenges of skill and intelligent pattern recognition. Many levels also force you to fend off never-ending waves of enemies until you fill up the Fury Meter to unleash a Power Surge attack that clears the area so you can proceed. There is very little variation to the game, and well before the end I was ready to throw in the towel to spare myself any further pain (but I did stick with it to completion).

The Wii version doesn’t fare a whole lot better, but it at least tries to do some interesting things with motion control. In spurts, it is fun to uppercut enemies into the air with an upward swipe of the Wii Remote, juggle combo them with a few melee strikes, and then slam them back to the ground with a downward remote thrust. It’s also more enjoyable being able to aim at the screen and flick the Nunchuk (or remote) to throw Thor’s hammer, and there is at least some form of variation to the combat scenarios as tougher enemies have elemental shields you must counter with your own powers and certain environmental hazards require use of specific powers to clear. The Wii version even tosses in a few on-rails flight missions reminiscent of Sin & Punishment.

Unfortunately, both versions of the game suffer from unresponsive controls and poor camera systems that make it difficult to judge distances and subsequently time parries and dodges. Thor’s canned animations also give the combat a rigid feel limiting your ability to change into a block or dodge in the middle of a combo. Regardless of platform, the combat just isn’t very fast or fluid, and that’s the nail in the coffin for straightforward brawler games like this.

If you have your heart set on playing a Thor game, by all means play it on the Wii (or the DS, as I’ve heard that’s another 2D gem from WayForward). But overall you are better off passing on both.

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Pros:
+ Wii version’s comic book aesthetics are appealing
+ Wii version implements motion control in some fun ways

Cons:
– Dull, shallow and tedious combat
– Controls are rigid and unresponsive
– Framerate chugs noticeably on Wii
– Xbox 360 graphics are dark and ugly
– Xbox 360 version full of monotonous bosses and level designs

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Wii and Xbox 360, also available for DS and PS3
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Wii – Red Fly Studio, PS3/Xbox 360 – Liquid Entertainment
Release Date: 5/3/2011
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copies provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!