Developer: Aspect Digital Entertainment
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Price: $29.99 – Available Here
There are many classic cartoons from the eighties which have either been re-imagined and given new series or have been given a full theatrical release over the last few years and last year a favorite series of mine happened to receive a fresh new series. That series happened to be Thundercats and while the series itself unfortunately is treading water between cancellation and indefinite hiatus, Namco Bandai has released a DS game based on the new Thundercats series. Is this game worthy of the Thundercats name?
When the Kingdom of Thundera is assaulted by a well-organized and well-equipped lizard army the king is killed and the kingdom is laid to ruin. Players take control of Lion-O the young prince of Thundera who must seek out the Book of Omens, the only weapon that can destroy the evil Mumm-Ra who is pulling the strings of the lizard army.
As such, the game’s story follows Lion-O through a number of areas in the game which are present in the episodes of the actual television series as he tries to find the Book of Omens and fights against members of Mumm-Ra’s army along the way. Unfortunately, this Thundercats game does a very poor job of providing even a small semblance of a story thanks to the fact that barely anything is explained or shown.
The story is told only through little stills from an episode of the show accompanied by, at most, five sentences explaining what is going on. The game takes the cliff notes from the cliff notes of the show by presenting the most bare bones explanation of events possible. No information is given about the other Thundercats outside of the fact they just suddenly show up and ultimately players will find almost no reason to care about the events occurring at any time. If someone were to try and play Thundercats without any knowledge of the television show they would have almost no idea what is happening as a result of this poorly delivered story.
Visuals & Audio:
While a game made solely on the Nintendo DS is going to have a lower visual quality than a game created for the Nintendo 3DS, it seems that Thundercats barely makes use of the DS’ visual capabilities as the graphics are barely above what was found on the GBA back in the day and even the various still images from the show itself seem terribly compressed. The various Thundercats only look decent in the bottom screen where the player simply stares at a still image of each character.
However on the top screen where all of the action takes place, Lion-O is absolutely terrible looking with a poor visual design the other Thundercats are only recognizable thanks to their color differences. The same can be said for the enemies you encounter as there is almost no variety in the enemies you will be fighting against. The only saving grace the game has is the fact that the background in the stages is usually well drawn and nicely detailed.
As far as the background music for the game goes, it is a shame that there is absolutely no music from the television show in the game. Or if any of the themes from the show are actually used in the title, they have been downgraded by such a huge margin that they are unrecognizable. They do a decent enough job, but usually gamers will barely remember what they listened to. It is also worth noting that Thundercats features only one little voice work clip of “Thundercats Hooo!” which is played whenever Lion-O does anything in the game from starting a level, ending a level, using a special, summoning help and more. One stage in Thundercats the game has more Hoo!ing than three episodes of the television series and frankly it becomes overkill.
Thundercats offers a simple beat’em up style of game which the player needs to defeat the enemies on the screen and when they are told to do so, they can advance to the right. There are a few boss battles which break up this monotony and while a few of them are unique and enjoyable, the rest of these fights are rather simplistic and easy to defeat once you discover their rhythm.
As for the actual combat in Thundercats, the controls are very simple as the player can press attack with A and perform a multi-hit combo, a Y attack that fires a red laser out of the Sword of Omens at the cost of a re-fillable energy meter, B to jump or perform a double jump, which is not only terribly inaccurate and poorly designed, but required for various platforming stages, and then X to summon an ally. Thankfully players will not need to use the X button often as they can also summon whichever ally they choose simply by tapping their portrait on the bottom screen, where they can also choose to use their special laser attack.
Now while the combat itself is rather simple, you’ll notice that there is one essential button missing here, a block button of any kind, but more on that in a moment. Combat is not only simple but it is also very sluggish thanks to the fact that Lion-O is probably the slowest fighter in all of Thundera. Each of his more powerful attacks such as a smash attack require a short cool down where Lion-O has to stand back up and probably take multiple hits at the same time, meaning that ultimately players will simply just mash the basic attack button to perform combos and still get beaten down.
The fact that a block or even a dodge button is a major issue is the fact that Lion-O can only move in a straight line, with a few ledges the player can jump up to if they feel like. Now put in ranged attacks and you have a Lion-O that will take multiple hits whenever one of these enemies appears and if you run into more than one at a time then good luck with that as being hit by one of these long-ranged attacks stuns Lion-O into being hit by every shot fired. This seemingly useless artificial difficulty provides a needless challenge which only exacerbates the stiff combat animations worse and pad the very short game’s length.
Outside of this combat you can also collect a few items along the way such as sword tokens which make you deal more damage, health items and Thundercat tokens which allow you to summon an ally. You can hold up to three of these at a time and each ally assists Lion-O in a different way when summoned. Cheetara deals damage to close enemies, Tygra hits every enemy on the screen, Panthro uses a tank to deal large amounts of damage and WilyKit and Wilykat provide a few healing items and even a spare summon token. The summoning mechanic is nice, however players will find themselves using the Wily twins more than anything else thanks to their healing items and the relative weakness of the damage dealing summons.
It is also worth mentioning that Thundercats has an absolutely terrible saving system as each level will require the player to finish it straight through until the chapter is over or they will risk losing all of their progress. There are no checkpoints and the game doesn’t even save between stages. In fact there is no notification of the game saving at all, meaning it is practically down to luck whether you managed to hit a save point when you need to stop playing.
Thundercats on the DS could have been at least something of a decent game however it has almost no redeeming value anywhere. Players are presented with a sluggish combat system, cheap difficulty to expand the game’s pathetic length, terrible audio and poor visual presentation. All of this creates something that will make Thundercats fans weep that their nostalgic franchise has been treated in such a way. In fact, the only redeeming feature of the game are unlockable pieces of art work for completing various tasks in the game, but with a game designed as badly as Thundercats, who would want to?