Growing up in the '80s, there were several cartoons that I watched on a regular basis, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and any cartoon based on or around video games. Like a lot of people I know, I also watched Thundercats from time to time, though not as much as my friends did, so I can’t recall specific story elements and such. However, when it was announced a remake was in the works back in July 2011, I decided to check it out, and while I haven’t been able to catch many episodes, I did enjoy what I was able to watch. Of course where there’s a popular cartoon or franchise there’s likely to be a video game based off of it just around the corner. As such, let’s dive into Thundercats on the Nintendo DS.
The game takes place within the first few episodes of the new series, basically going up to when Lion-O seeks the Book of Omens. If you’ve seen the series, then you’ll know exactly what’s going on. It’s an interesting story, but unfortunately that’s probably the best part of this game. Normally I try to hit up the positive aspects of a game as well as the negative, but this time around there’s going to be a huge focus on the negative, because quite frankly I didn’t find too many positives while playing.
Unfortunately, the only character you can play is Lion-O. Granted the other Thundercats can assist you, but I’ll get more into that in a bit. Lion-O’s actions are a little on the clunky side at best. His jumping and attacks seem to take a fraction of a second longer to register than they should, which is a major pain in one stage where you’re jumping on rocks that are falling from the ceiling in a cave. If you hit Right and B at about the same time, you’re just more likely to accidentally run off the cliff or rock than you are to actually jump on the rock. There’s also a slight delay to your attacks, which isn’t as bad as jumping, but still enough to throw off your attack. On top of that, both jumping and attacking suffer from a bad case of “must-wait-for-animation-to-end-before-you-can-do-anything-else.” If you’ve begun attacking something, especially in the middle of a combo, you can’t do anything else until the animation is done, meaning that if an enemy approaches from behind, you’re probably going to get hit.
Speaking of attacking, get used to hitting the A button over and over and over, because that’s what most of this game is. Now and then you can do a jump attack, which is practically worthless, and a crouch stab and slide attack that are equally worthless outside of a couple boss fights. You can also downward stab to knock enemies down, but it doesn’t do much damage. Basically, outside of a few possible options to delay the fight, you’re mostly going to be pressing A over and over, executing the same five-hit combo. Combined with waiting for attack animations to end before you can do anything else, you’re a sitting duck with the way enemies are thrown at you. Typically you’ll get two weak enemies on both sides of you, or one stronger enemy on each side of you. When the area to fight in is only one screen wide, it’s irritating because no matter what you do, you’re likely to get hit because at least two of the enemies (one on each side) have ranged attacks, so no matter which side you try to take down first, you’re likely to get hit by the other side.
It’s not completely hopeless, however. Over time, and as you attack enemies, a blue bar fills up under your health gauge. Once full, you can unleash the full power of your sword: a red beam attack that can take out weaker enemies in one hit and do some decent damage to stronger enemies. Also, as the game progresses, you can unlock the other Thundercats to use as assists. Collecting Thundercats icons allows you to call in a Thundercat to provide some brief assistance, but you can only have three icons stored at once. Of the four, only two are useful. Tygra will basically shoot up the entire screen, causing damage to any enemy on screen at the time, while WilyKit and WilyKat don’t do any damage, but will throw out three items, which are random among food and Thundercats icons. Of the other two, Cheetara can do some damage where you called her in from, and Panthro uses the Thundertank to fire five shots at the screen, but the locations of the shots are entirely random, and most of the time the attacks just miss entirely.
The bosses aren’t too difficult once you know what you’re doing, but they’re just downright tedious. There’s no life bar so there’s no way to tell how close you are to defeating them for the most part. The only bosses that I noticed will somewhat tell you how much longer you have are Mum-Ra and a boss that’s a giant blue drill. Each of them will change up their attacks after taking so much damage, but it’s just a pain to get so far into a boss fight and die, and then have to restart the boss fight.
That’s about all there is to it. As a fan of Thundercats and having watched a bit of the new series, I had high hopes. What I got, though, was a tedious beat-em-up that lasts all of three hours. Yes, as far as I can tell there are only six stages (according to the stats that you can look up from the main menu), and about all of them have three areas each, and if you decide to stop anywhere in a stage and go back to it later, you have to restart the stage all over again, not just the area you left off. The music is so-so, the artwork doesn’t look too bad, and I do like the “cards” you can unlock, which are basically stills taken from the animated series. In fact, the overall look of the game and the stills during the cutscenes, plus those that you can unlock, are about the only real positives I found. Even hearing Lion-O say “Thundercats…HOOOOO!!!” every couple of minutes gets old quickly. While you can replay any stage to improve your time and unlock more cards, I can’t see any reason why you’d want to trudge through any part of the game again. Bottom line, Thundercats is a prime example of a bad game based on a great series.