Young Thor (PSP) review
"Though it's easy to steamroll through many of the early fights in the game by simply pounding the ground a lot or frying adversaries from a distance, later battles require more finesse and some of them (like the banshees) will force you to develop actual strategies if you want to consistently win. After all, ground pounds don't work well on teleporting ghosts. Those later encounters keep things interesting by practically forcing you to utilize dodges, since you'll eventually run out of magical energy if you don't string together your most powerful attacks with some weaker ones."
Mankind is in trouble. The dark goddess Hel and her allies are determined to destroy the world. Yggdrasil, the tree that connects the realms of Midgard and Asgard, will soon be wiped from existence unless someone--anyone--can put an end to the chaos. Enter a youthful version of the heroic Thor. Just about everyone knows him as one of the great heroes of Norse legend, but did you know that his adventures began before he could even grow a mustache?
Clearly, Young Thor was designed with youngsters in mind. Norse legend is fascinating and all, but at times it can be a bit inaccessible. Even if they start reading up on some of the intriguing things such as valkyries, Ragnarok and a cast of mischievous gods who wouldn't feel out of place in Greek mythology, younger folks are likely to wonder when they can get back to watching cartoons. By settling on a young protagonist, the people at Frima Studios were able to make everything more approachable. Not only should the freckle-faced Thor prove easy for kids to identify with, but he also happens to kick serious monster butt. Those are two qualities that anyone can get behind.
Like the pint-sized hero himself, the world that Thor must explore is appropriate for the game's target audience. There are four distinct realms: a series of cliffs overlooking the sea, a forest that grows along a mountainside riddled with caves, a rainbow archway leading to the heavens and a celestial palace inhabited by giants and gods. Each separate area can typically be cleared in 15 minutes or less--sometimes much less--which would make Young Thor a short game if not for the equipment scavenging and reworked stages.
As you work your way through the game, you'll battle hundreds of monsters. These range from giant spiders to goblins to skeletons. Your foes usually begin with enough strength to easily knock you for a loop, but Young Thor employs a helpful level-up system. If you repeat earlier stages enough times and kill any enemies that you encounter in the process, you'll receive welcome boosts that make exploration less strenuous. To power up your character enough that he'll be able to defeat the game's crew of bosses, though, you'll need to find eight pieces of armor. These are squirreled away throughout each of the four realms. You'll want to find all of them because of the invaluable new abilities that they grant you. One upgrade allows your life meter to regenerate over time. Another improves the frequency with which you can land critical attacks. Others prove similarly vital. You'll need to explore thoroughly in order to find everything, but it's definitely worth your while.
Whether you have found all of the right gear or not, combat is relatively straightforward. Thor possesses weak and strong melee attacks. Both of them can be charged to trigger combo strikes. It's also possible to jump into the air and then come down with a ground pound that inflicts wide area damage. The ground pound slowly drains the special move meter, as does the magic bolt of lightning that Thor can fire from his hammer. Though it's easy to steamroll through many of the early fights in the game by simply pounding the ground a lot or frying adversaries from a distance, later battles require more finesse and some of them (like the banshees) will force you to develop actual strategies if you want to consistently win. After all, ground pounds don't work well on teleporting ghosts. Those later encounters keep things interesting by practically forcing you to utilize dodges, since you'll eventually run out of magical energy if you don't string together your most powerful attacks with some weaker ones.
If you try to blaze through your adventure in a hurry, you'll quickly run into trouble because of the game's unique approach to level progression. All but one of the four environments that you must navigate are locked as you begin playing. When you complete the first stage, located along the lower left side of a level select grid, you can ascend directly to the second row. Alternatively, you can head right along the first row to explore the same stage that you just finished, this time with some new challenges. Doing so could eventually allow you to find new equipment, but you'll also encounter stronger enemies. The level selection options work out quite nicely because they leave just the right amount of the control in the player's hands. You might be tempted to play through the first stage four times in succession and be done with it, but sometimes it's better to explore new realms first. There's always time to return later, when you have better equipment and have gained a few levels.
Although the developers did a good job of mixing the stages up to keep things somewhat fresh, the need to revisit familiar stages isn't likely to excite everyone. At least there's a reasonable explanation for it, though: Young Thor is a 'PSP Mini' title, which means that its file size is limited so that you can also save the title to your PSP memory card and play it on the go. Accordingly, it'll set you back a mere $4.99. Given the designation and price point, it's natural to give the title a certain amount of leeway.
Young Thor doesn't ask for your leeway, though, because mostly it doesn't need to. Aside from the repetition (which is rather typical of action-brawler titles), there aren't any real issues with the gameplay that would remind the player that he or she is playing an inexpensive download. The visuals go head to head with most PSP retail releases, and the game even looks good on a high-definition television screen. Likewise, the soundtrack is suitably stirring, the controls are generally tight and responsive (except in some battles where the number of enemies and projectiles on-screen slow things down to an 8-bit crawl) and the whole adventure has enough substance to keep most players busy for several enjoyable hours.
While it's unlikely that players will still be talking about Young Thor a few years from now or remembering it as a highlight from their gaming past, the title represents a great value today. With more stages and next-gen polish, it might even have worked as a proper retail release. Maybe that can still happen. Until then, players can be content acting out the childhood heroics of a Norse legend for less than it would cost to pick up a value meal at the local burger joint. Gamers have skipped a meal for less.
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 23, 2010)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Young Thor review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!