Inside Pulse 12

Review: Thundercats (Nintendo DS)

Thundercats
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Aspect Digital Entertainment
Genre: Beat-em-up
Release Date: 10/30/2012

The Thundercats are back! 2011 saw the rebirth of a classic eighties franchise featuring anthropomorphic cats battling an evil mummy. Naturally, merchandising opportunities would arise from such a thing, and that’s where this game comes in. An action-orientated show full of colorful characters seems like a perfect match for a DS title.

So, is this yet another piece of worthless crap, or is this one of the rare surprisingly good licensed titles?

Story/Modes

Thundercats covers the first six episodes of the new series. That might not seem like much material to work with, but actually fits into a cohesive plotline. The kingdom of Thunderia is assaulted and overthrown by a relentless lizard army. Lion-O, the young prince, must go out and seek a way to win his kingdom back from the evil Mumm-Ra. The way to do this can be found in the Book of Omens. The game centers on his search for that legendary tome.

The story is told via a series of stills from the show paired with text. It doesn’t do a good job of introducing characters, personalities, or delivering any sort of emotional impact. Instead, it serves as a functional synopsis. This may be fine for someone intimately familiar with the show, but does nothing for anyone else. Think of the story as nothing more than the kind of tone you’d find in a textbook. You’ll get the important information, but you won’t really care about it.

Beyond the main story mode, the game actually includes some bonuses. First off is a stage attack mode. This allows you to replay any of the game’s six chapters in order to improve your score and/or time. This isn’t just for show though, as you’ll unlock various pieces of art as rewards for reaching various milestones. These can be viewed from the main menu. It may not be a whole lot, but most licensed games I’ve seen offer much less.

Graphics

To put it bluntly, this game would have looked below average on the GBA. Lion-O is a vague group of colors stitched together in the attempt to make it look like a character. The enemies actually look better, though they also are surrounded by ugly red outlines that make them look like paper cutouts on a colored background.

The backgrounds are the best looking part of the game, and I say that lightly. They have a decent amount of detail, but look washed out and bland most of the time. If it weren’t for the shoddy main character, they wouldn’t look half as good.

Animations and effects are subpar as well. There just aren’t many, so everything looks and feels stiff when you play. Bad animations also effect gameplay, as they take too long to finish up, leaving you open to attacks. Lion-O’s energy attack looks more like a splash of red rather than a powerful beam of light.

Audio

If I never hear “Thundercats Hooo!” again, I’ll die happy. He spouts it off several times a minute in this game. Let’s see, he does it at the beginning of each level, whenever you continue after a death, whenever you use a special attack, and whenever you summon an ally. IT. GETS. OLD. Add in the tinny and repetitive sounds heard during combat, and this led me to turn down that portion of the audio.

Musically, the game has a suite of nifty sounding tunes. They’re generic, but they sound all right. However, they are all very tinny and outdated. They’re also very quiet. I could barely hear them, even with the sound jacked up. I had to mute the effects to hear the music at all. That’s poor implementation.

Gameplay

Thundercats is a straight up action title. You constantly move forward and clear out enemies until you’re allowed to more even further forward. There are boss fights, platforming sections, and powerups to grab.

The controls are simple. Press B to jump, double tap to double jump, A is for attacks, Y uses the special attack, X summons an ally, and the shoulder buttons switch up which ally you can summon. The touch screen is used marginally, in that you can press the portrait of an ally in order to summon them immediately. It’s not really better than simply using the button, as you have to move your thumb away, look for the right portrait, and tap it. This takes time, which can get you hit. More importantly, the controls are sluggish and occasionally unresponsive. Using most actions also gives you a short downtime where you can’t do anything. For example, you have to wait for the animation to finish after a slam attack before you can move again. The timing for a double jump is also horrendous, which makes using it a pain.

Combat is mind numbingly simple. Tapping the attack button performs a multi-hit combo that you’ll use over and over again. You can perform a jump attack, slam attack, and charge attack as well. However, these attacks are rarely useful thanks to long range enemies that are deadly accurate. You can pick up powerups for your sword until you’ve gotten three. It’s needed, as your attacks are pitifully weak until you charge it up. You also build up a special meter by attacking. When full, you can unleash a powerful attack that hits all enemies on the ground.

Boss fights are frequent, and also quite simple. The bosses use simple attack patterns that are easy to predict. As you attack them, they pick up speed, but don’t really start to use new attacks. Bosses also have grace periods after you’ve knocked them down, which makes timing attacks an absolute pain.

One of the biggest flaws in the game is that you can only play as Lion-O. The other cats are in the game, but only as assist characters. You unlock them as you progress through the story. Basically, you have to find a Thundercats token. Once you have one, you can use any of your assists as a one shot deal. Tygra hits everyone on screen, Cheetarah performs a powerful close range attack, Panthro uses a tank to snipe enemies, and Wilykit/Wilykat drop off various items. Honestly, I ended up only using Wilykit/Wilykat, as they often dropped full health pickups as well as a bonus token to replace the one I spent summoning them. The others were great if I needed help against the basic enemies, but didn’t do enough damage to use against bosses.

Overall, this is a pretty poor excuse for a beat-em-up. The controls are sluggish, the combat is boring, and the lack of playable characters is disheartening. There are other flaws as well, such as a lack of checkpoints, poor level design, and just an overall sense of repetitiveness. I didn’t have fun at any time while playing the game.

Replayability

Playing through the entire main story took me less than two hours. I should mention that this includes one level (not chapter) that took me over half an hour because I kept on dying. This meant I had to constantly restart.

Once you’ve completed the game, you can go back to replay any chapter in order to improve your score. Doing so unlocks a bevy of images to look at in the gallery. Most of these aren’t worth it, but there are some fun concept pieces as well. Normally, such a short game doesn’t bode well for the replayability, but I’ll give the game some points for at least making an effort to get players to go through it more than once.

Balance

Enemies are practically cannon fodder. Once you’ve started a combo, they can’t break out. With a fully powered weapon, you can easily back them into a corner and dispatch them quickly. Bosses have patterns that are easy to read and predict.

Despite the relative ease of the game, it’s also quite cheap. Very often, you’ll be flanked, with gun toting foes on either side. While attacking one, the other is sure to fire. It’s hard to avoid the attack because of the unresponsive controls. Each hit stuns you temporarily, meaning you have to sit there and take every shot until it stops. This occurs throughout the game, and never stops being annoying.

Another way the game is cheap is that you’re often in a situation where you simply cannot avoid attacks. One recurring boss uses a powerful dash attack. The only way to avoid it is to jump above him. This is impossible in some levels, as you have nothing to jump onto. It’s frustrating.

Originality

As with most licensed games, this offers nothing in the way of originality. Thundercats offers the same tired gameplay that most beat-em-ups do. I can’t think of a single mechanic that hasn’t been around for decades.

Addictiveness

Honestly, you’re forced to play this game if you don’t want to have your progress erased. You can’t save mid-chapter, so quitting after completing the first level in a chapter will result in you having to replay that level when you come back. The chapter breaks aren’t immediately obvious as well, making it very easy to screw yourself over. I often found myself playing the game simply because I was afraid of losing my progress.

Beyond that, there’s nothing to keep you playing for more than a few minutes at a time. The gameplay is boring. In a way, I’m glad the game was so short. I don’t think I could have stood even four hours of it.

Appeal Factor

Usually, despite their flaws, licensed games at least hold some appeal to fans of the source material. That is not the case here. Fans of Thundercats are not going to like the fact that they can’t play as anyone but Lion-O. It is really surprising that a company would set out to make a Thundercats game without using the full cast. The developer previously worked on some Naruto games, and made sure to include multiple playable characters in them. I don’t see why that wasn’t the case here.

Apart from a few diehard fanatics, the game has no appeal whatsoever. Thanks to short length, poor gameplay, and outdated presentation, there’s nothing here that would interest a potential buyer.

Miscellaneous

I don’t go into licensed titles expecting much, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised before. I figured Thundercats had a good chance of being one of the few, as it was made by a developer I’ve liked in the past, and featured simple beat-em-up mechanics. Honestly, I’m disappointed.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Bad
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Very Poor
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Bad
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Very Poor
Final Score: Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Thundercats misses the mark on just about every level. It does a poor job of telling the story, has severely outdated graphics, the controls are sluggish and unresponsive, it’s too short, it only offers one playable character, etc. I know the DS is so long in the tooth that its successor has been out for awhile, but it deserves better games than this.

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