Okay! Just for a bit of introduction, Young Thor is a game by Frima Studios, who brought us the stellar mini-rts 'Zombie Tycoon'. It is built using the same engine, called 'Vicious Engine', and therefore if you own Zombie Tycoon you'll already have some idea of what to expect in terms of quality graphics. However, Young Thor uses the Vicious Engine to create a sidescrolling brawler with 3D graphics.
The graphics are absolutely stunning. Not just 'good for a mini', but just outright darn good. Quite cartoonish in style, Young Thor seems to have taken a few pages from Zombie Tycoon's book (understandable, considering it's the same developers) and once again delivers quirky, odd characters. Your hero looks more like a hobbit than a god of thunder, but somehow between the amusingly styled character and the brilliantly designed, yet somehow silly enemies, the game comes off really well, pulling together its own unique style. Again, like Zombie Tycoon. Oh, and the effects for Thor's magical spells are extremely nicely done, definitely the best stuff I've seen on a mini. All of Thor's equipment that he can find during the game appears individually on your character, and takes him from looking rather like a hobbit with a mallet (I seem fixated on hobbits, but I swear, Peregrine Took is playing Thor) to a...hobbit with a shinier mallet. And a winged helmet.
I know this isn't usually included, but I personally have gotten quite obsessive about good animation. I actually dropped Spider-man from my team on MUA2 because he looks like a deranged howler monkey when he moves. However, in Young Thor - well, I have no idea where the developers got their inspiration, unless they found a berserk hammer-wielding hobbit, but they got this down pat. Thor has a large variety of moves that he can perform, and everything from plain old running to his hammer-slam is spectacularly done, and really makes your pint-sized demigod feel like a champion of...well...truth. Or Justice. Or maybe just mead and valkyries. The enemies weren't neglected either - although there isn't a huge variety of enemy types, all of them are animated quite nicely and have their own idle animations and a variety of attacks. The Frost Giants are particularly impressive in this regard. Also, when fighting goblins, you will periodically receive a delightful surprise - one that startled me the first time and got me chuckling the second.
Absolutely serviceable. I don't tend to focus much on sound when I'm playing, and therefore try to limit my comments in reviews. The music is good, the enemy sounds are good, the sounds for Thor's attacks are particularly good because each one sounds as if you're doing what you're doing. As if I'd know what releasing lightning bolts from my mini mallet sounded like. I suspect if anyone's a fan of really good martial music the sound will please them. Reportedly Thor swears in Nordic, but to me it sounds like insane mumbling. I really need to adjust the sound volumes, but it's just too darn much fun to be distracted with option menus.
The controls are smooth as silk and responsive as a well trained horse. Don't worry if you don't get the analogy, I haven't ridden a horse, but it sounds good. Basically, Thor does what you want him to do when you want him to do it, no fuss, no muss. The only oddity I've noticed is that the default controls are set to ignore the analog stick and only use the d-pad for input. Definitely not a problem, though, considering I find the analogy stick to be a bit twitchy at times anyway. My only gripe about the controls is really more a gameplay design choice - once Thor's committed to an attack, even by accident, you're stuck until you finish. There are a huge variety of attacks to choose from, and I found that all of them were extremely intuitive and easy to pull off.
Well...You've got Hel, see, she's a very nasty lady who apparently is really angry at the world because her local beauty spa accidentally used a highly acidic mudpack on half of her face and left her...really ugly. She's mad anyway, and the saying 'Hell hath no fury' doesn't apply here, because Hel is scorned, and Hel runs Hell. Something I found amusing, but hey - I'm not a Viking, maybe that made sense to them. She does...evil stuff. And you stop her. Probably. There's something about a tree, too, but honestly, none of it seems that important. The 'cutscenes' are beautifully done in an odd fusion of the game's design and some sort of pseudo-chibi anime. It looks rather like the PowerPuff Girls combined with Samurai Jack. Actually, that's kind of the whole theme of this game summed up in one. Plus Thor's a Hobbit. Did I mention that already?
Young Thor's kind of an RPG-light. By which I mean yes, you get experience points, but you can't allocate anything when you level up, you just get stronger. You get upgraded gear (which appears on your character, which I still think is awesome, but hey, I moved from my GBA to a PSP a few weeks ago, I'm still euphoric over the fact that I have a customized wallpaper) but since you cannot choose from different pieces of gear, the whole upgrade system rings a bit hollow. However, once you play a few levels you hit a point where you realize leveling is very important. It's also fun to level up a bit and play an earlier level and really feel like a god of thunder slapping critters around. You can also earn achievements (which is great, I am really enjoying trying to unlock them), encylopedia entries (which if I read more, I'd probably have a better idea what's going on in the game, but again, there are monsters to smash and if I were reading it'd be a textbook) and pickups, which range from runes that empower Thor the Hobbit (did I mention he's a hobbit?) temporarily, and apples, which restore health, mana, or everything. The apples are huge, too, it's just weird. Probably a good thing Hobbits can eat so much.
GENERAL GAMEPLAY THOUGHTS
The entire package just...is so slickly put together it's frightening. Some of the other mini's I own feel like hackjobs (Dracula wotsit whatever it's called is a notable mention) but Thor, I would have easily paid ten dollars for. Picking it up for five just makes the deal sweeter. I tend to look at any game and ask myself 'what is this game trying to do?' and evaluate it based on that. Basically, it is quite clear that what Young Thor is trying to do is make you feel like a famous god of thunder that is trying to save the world. The developers perfectly balanced extremely challenging gameplay (word to the wise - don't go straight from a two-skull level to a five-skull level. They're serious about the skulls) with a remarkably frequent euphoria where you'll find yourself gripping your PSP and cackling maniacally as you deal out some thunderous fury to poor little goblins. The controls never get in the way, there are frequent enough checkpoints so screwing up doesn't set you too far back, and there are frequent points where the levels become somewhat nonlinear and permit you to do a little exploring to find more monsters or items. And since I obsessively replay games I enjoy, I am happy that the entire game is designed around your wanting to replay levels again and again, with one of the more interesting achievements being given for maxing out your character's level. Young Thor is simple and easy enough to control that it could be handed to a kid (who'd probably have better reflexes than I do anyway) and they would very much enjoy it, but it's also a nice walk down memory lane for those of us old enough to remember when Mario Brothers was king and if you screwed up in a game, you started over. It's nice to see a game this accessible, this challenging, and this charming all in one package.
It's five dollars. Level one will take you five to ten minutes. Then you will look at the clock and realize you've been smiting your enemies for half an hour. Then time will slip away into an endless cycle of hammer wielding hobbits and bolts of lightning. In all seriousness, it is fantastic for relaxing (because the levels are reasonably short) and it is so beautifully done that it is a real pleasure to support a company that does good quality work like this. So yes...five dollars? Definitely worth it.
THOUGHTS FOR THE DEVELOPERS
It would be nice to have a hammer throw attack, and there are not enough levels. Not that the game needs more, it's more that I need more Young Thor games. Or expansions. Or a level editor. Or...all of the above.
Thanks for reading!