Hel is up to no good. Despite being the ruler of the delightful Land of the Dead (the underworld of Norse mythology), she isn’t content. Greed and ambition eat away at her until an evil plan is hatched. That plan is centered on Yggdrasil, a massive tree that binds the nine worlds together. Hel thinks that if she can kidnap the caretakers of the tree (three norns) then each of the nine worlds will collapse into the Land of the Dead. Such an apocalypse would give her immense power, leading to untold spoils and evil domination. There’s only one problem: Young Thor stands in her way.
In Young Thor, a PSN mini, players take direct control of the titular God of Thunder in a quest to free the norns and defeat Hel. How are you going to accomplish such an epic feat? Most people hear the name "Thor" and immediately think of his hammer. Who can blame them? It’s a legendary weapon of might and it should handle like one, which is one thing Frima Studios did very well. I really felt like I had godlike power to channel through my hammer and obliterate my enemies.
There are a total of fifteen different attacks, most of which involve judicious use of Thor’s Hammer. See something move, hit it. It’s refreshingly simple. In addition to swinging his hammer, Young Thor can use magic-based attacks and dodge to avoid damage. Such a fast paced side-scrolling game only succeeds from tight and responsive controls. If you push a button there is almost always an immediate response. However, Young Thor does suffer from slow-downs if there is too much on-screen action. Multiple enemies, relatively large viewing distances or a lot of movement will cause a type of unintentional “bullet time.” It’s still playable but detracts from otherwise fluid action.
A total of seven common enemies and two mini-bosses will die trying to thwart your progress. Classic favorites like goblins and trolls fight alongside banshees and giants. All have unique attacks and behaviors and can quickly cut down Thor if you aren’t careful. Occasionally in a level, Hel will work her magic and create an area similar to a “thunder dome” arena. Thor is stuck inside while a set number of enemies are spawned; once they are all defeated, the dome-like force field dissipates.
Adding to the flavor of the simple side-scrolling action are rudimentary RPG elements. Experience is awarded for each enemy slain enemy. As expected, gaining experiences raises Thor’s level and increases his health, magic and attacks. Odin also strategically placed eight artifacts throughout the land. Finding them greatly improves your armor, damage, and can even provide health regeneration. Lastly, two power-ups (in the form of runes) will randomly drop to provide temporary invincibility or damage bonuses.
Young Thor’s quest takes him across three different lands: Midgard, the land of men; Asgard, the realm of the gods; and Bifröst, a rainbow bridge that connects the previous two. Norse mythology contains a plethora of fully fleshed-out locales in which Frima Studios could draw from to create unique levels. However, there are only four levels in the game. It’s true that they all have four variations that changes enemy types and even the path you take. Unfortunately, if you aren’t fond of a particular level you are still stuck playing through it through all of its variations.
The game levels also increase in difficulty at a rate faster than that of Thor’s character. It thus becomes necessary to grind on the same level (play it multiple times) to become powerful enough to advance. I don’t mind this game mechanic, but the pacing should have been tweaked a bit more because there wasn‘t much end-game content. Young Thor boasts 99 player levels, but there isn’t much challenge after level 85.
All in all, I completed the game in 4-6 hours. Your experience may swing shorter or longer depending on your approach. Do you like to obtain 100% completion on a game? Then you’ll be happy to hear that there are in-game achievements such as kill 100 giants, obtain all pieces of armor, or beat a level without taking damage. It’s a small feature but adds reasons to come back. Also, small touches like the momentary confusion of a troll (complete with a question mark above its head) when you jump around it and the slobbering, rabid goblins gave the game character and a subtle humor.
I came away pleasantly surprised by Young Thor. Sure, it’s just a side-scrolling action game but it’s charming and fun enough to stand out from the crowd. There’s an amount of grinding that could have been avoided and some graphical slowdowns, but these don’t cripple the experience. Young Thor is a solid mini game worth its price tag.