May 18, 2011

Catching Up with the Thunderer

Thor: God of Thunder
To say that I read comics does not adequately describe the depth of my madness; to achieve that, one must paint a picture of filing cabinets, shelves and boxes spilling over with twenty years of meticulously bagged and boarded comics, piles of this month’s readings strewn across the floor; walls adorned with art, shelves with models, and a stack of individually framed posters from The Dark Knight that haven’t yet found wallspace. There’s a batmobile on the shelf behind me, and I assure you it isn’t my only one.

Suffice to say, I am invested.

Thus, I took the opportunity to play Thor: God of Thunder on both the Xbox 360 and Wii recently, and I will now leverage that terrible qualification to examine whether these titles do justice to Marvel’s Norse thunderer. Surprisingly, the version to come out on top isn’t the one you’d expect.

Thor: God of Thunder
God of Thunder is a brawler, as if there were any doubt. They’re always brawlers, after all—as if perhaps someone on the team of nearly every superhero game ever made said “Well, superheroes fight, I guess,” and that was that.

Very rarely does anyone seem to think critically about these properties, and even more rarely do the people in charge seem to understand the material and its appeal. As the 360 iteration of God of Thunder began, I immediately understood that it was another of these situations.

Thor is a low-rate God of War clone, bereft of the time, talent, and intelligence that made that series special, rendered in crude graphics, mediocre art, weak combat and tired, uninteresting mission design.

As the thunder god, players will march from one battle to the next, mash a few buttons and enjoy some poor, unsatisfying animations as Thor swings his hammer at the boring enemies. Nothing is made of Thor’s ability to fly, while some other powers are stuffed into lame energy-draining powers akin to the magic abilities from God of War.

The combat design is not merely uninspired, but also ill-executed. Hit detection is shoddy, Thor will often not perform the actions he should, and the combo and power commands are clumsy and awkward.

Undoubtedly, Thor as seen on the 360 is an ugly, shallow, and flat experience that can’t manage to provide any moments of genuine excitement.

Thor: God of Thunder
After suffering through the 360 title, I was extremely hesitant to slide in the Wii version, expecting something even worse. Eventually, though, curiosity won out—and I was rewarded.

The Wii title offers a twist on the standard light attack/heavy attack control scheme implemented by many brawlers by binding heavy attacks to motions of the Wii remote. Much in the same way that its counterpart was immediately boring, combat in the Wii version is instantly satisfying, as waving the remote about causes Thor to devastate his enemies with awesome hammer attacks.

Equally, the Wii iteration does a far better job of implementing Thor’s storm-based powers; the thunder god can blow enemies away with a gust of wind by shaking the nunchuck, call down lightning with the flick of a wrist, and weave numerous magical bonuses into his combos for an onslaught of powerful, cool abilities.

Combat is like standing at the center of a hurricane—and I mean that literally. Cyclones, lightning, shaking Earth—and amongst it all, Thor’s hammer flying around the screen and obliterating ridiculous monsters. Battles are fast paced and exciting, bolstered by comfortable, intuitive control with the remote and nunchuck.

That’s not to say the game is without flaws, though. While there is great fun at the outset, once the upgrades run out it becomes apparent that the combat system lacks the depth of other comparable brawler titles, and while the various combos and powers are fun to use, most battles can also be won by uncaring button mashing.

Thor: God of Thunder
Additionally, there are a couple of design and control missteps, such as the mapping of the dodge function to the d-pad (making dodging useless), and the addition of a massive ever-present cursor for directing Thor’s powers. This cursor is particularly annoying, as it easily could have been hidden when those powers are not active, and serves mainly to pollute the screen.

Finally, the game suffers from a simple lack of depth and development; though there are a few amusing flying sequences to break up the action, the bulk of the game is simple combat, while upgrades and unlockables can only keep one entertained for so long

Both versions suffer from a thin story and wasted voice talent, though the Wii version employs a motion-comic approach that, while tired, at least offers some interesting art. Furthermore, I found that the graphics on the Wii, though more primitive, were decidedly less ugly than the 360 alternative. Perhaps I simply have different expectations for a Wii game, however.

In any case, Thor is not a triple-A title on either system, but is absolutely at its best on Nintendo’s console, and probably worth renting or picking up used. I would be interested to see what the result might have been like with more time in development; Red Fly seems to have a solid grasp on how to make a Thor game exciting, and I imagine they could have done a better job if freed from the unforgiving tie-in schedule.

1 Comment »

  1.  Wanna buy some comics? ;)

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — May 19, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

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