Review: Young Thor

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With each passing game, Frima Studio is proving to be the most ambitious PlayStation Minis developer going right now, and the studio’s latest release, Young Thor, is without question its most ambitious yet.

Young Thor, a 2D/3D platformer with the grandiose adventure scale and hack-and-slash action of God of War, has you battling through Norse mythology as the god of thunder himself, contending with Hel, the goddess of death, to rescue the three Norns and bring life back to the world tree, Yggdrasil.

Immediately impressive are the game’s phenomenal 3D graphics and booming mythological soundtrack, which collectively rival many full-priced PSN titles and even some retail games. The sense of scale Frima was able to create in the level backgrounds and creature designs without breaking the Minis file size limit is a remarkable accomplishment, and for once the graphical fidelity holds up when up scaled for PS3 play. Really, the only technical flaw I’ve encountered has been sound effects going mute when attacking large enemies.

Young Thor’s gameplay is rather simplistic on the surface, but also deceptively deep for the type of game that it is. Platforming is kept to the basics of hopping from point to point along a 2D plane, with an occasional wall jumping sequence thrown in to mix the pace up at least a little. However, the platforming is really more of a means to break up the action, as much of the game revolves around beat-‘em-up style combat — and that’s where the game is truly at its best.

Thor, the heroic little tike, has quite a few moves at his disposal. The Square and Triangle buttons are your standard quick and strong attacks, both of which can be held down for powerful charge attacks and combined for a couple different combos. You can also jump into the air and perform a ground pound or utilize a spin attack to damage multiple surrounding attackers. And of course Thor wouldn’t be Thor without his powers to control thunder and lightning, so you’re also equipped with a magical lightning strike. Dodging is an integral mechanic to master if you want to survive deadly foes too, and quick taps of the left and right shoulder buttons make rolling out of harm’s way a snap.

There is a slight sluggishness when attacking that prevents you from breaking combos mid-stride to perform a quick evade, but in general the controls in the game are very effective. Gripes I do have with the game, though, include its reliance on recycling stages and a leveling system which, in my opinion, is pointless.

For a Mini, Young Thor is a large game with a lot of content. 17 stages (14 main levels plus three bosses) make up the story, and altogether you’re looking at two to three solid hours of gameplay at the minimum – double that if you want to earn all of the in-game achievements and seek out the eight godly artifacts stashed in hiding places throughout the game. The problem is that all of these levels are contained within four main environments, and while enemy types and placements change each time, playing the same few areas over and over can become tiring.

Replaying stages multiple times also becomes a necessity towards the end of the game because of a level-up system (experience is gained per kill and accumulated experience increases Thor’s power) that seems almost arbitrary in determining how much damage you do in correlation to the difficulty of a particular stage, which is indicated in the level select menu on a scale of 1-10 skulls. So, unless you replay stages to advance Thor’s level, you’ll eventually hit a brick wall where a stage will be beyond your capabilities – you’ll literally deal 0 damage, or trolls and other tough beasties will regenerate health faster than you can dish out enough damage to take them down.

In the case of the leveling system, it seems like something that was thrown in as nothing more than a bullet point feature. It doesn’t necessarily hurt the game to any great extent, but personally I didn’t see that it served a needed purpose. As for the recycled level designs, they are a more understandable compromise considering the game is a Mini, and if you mix up the order of progression you can prevent tedium from setting in most of the time.

Concessions were made to squeeze Young Thor into such a small package, but they do make complete sense when looked at as part of the bigger picture and are easily forgivable when you consider the effort and ambition that obviously went into every aspect of this game’s creation.

Fact of the matter is simply this: Young Thor is a joy to play, and that alone is enough for it to earn your $5.

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Pros:
+ Fun blend of platforming and beat-’em-up combat
+ Impressive production values
+ A ton of gameplay for a $5 Mini

Cons:
– Same levels are repeated numerous times
– Level-up system seems unnecessary

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation minis (PSP and PS3)
Publisher: Frima Studio
Developer: Frima Studio
Release Date: 7/20/2010
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code 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!