The cartoons of the 1980s are ripe with interesting characters that are crying out to live again on the airwaves. We’ve seen Transformers treated with travesty and triumph, a proper sequel series for Voltron and even a recent iOS game starring He-Man. The ferocious feline Thundercats are up this time, and while the series this game is based on is a darker re-imagining of the tale, this new Nintendo DS title from Aspect Digital Entertainment and Namco Bandai is simply dim.
I found it odd that Aspect chose to stick with the DS rather than the newer 3DS hardware until I actually played it. The side-scrolling brawler is archaic and performs worse than the genre titles that make up a portion of my SNES library. Strip away the Thundercats paint job, and what’s left is an emaciated stick-figure moving from left to right, fighting nameless lizards, triggering a single special move every once in a while and expending consumable tokens to trigger support abilities.
The only thing that makes this a Thundercats game is that it uses the characters and borrows wholesale, episode by episode, from the new televisions series. When you realize that the developers simply didn’t need to worry about narrative, the design missteps are even more egregious. Lion-O is the only character you’ll control. He wields the Sword of Omens, which can become more powerful by collecting sword icons.
There are also Thundaran symbols, which allow you to call in Tygra, Cheetara, WilyKit and WilyKat and Panthro. It does matter who you call in, as each serves a slightly different function. Tygra uses a gun to hit enemies around the screen. Cheetara does melee damage in Lion-O’s vicinity. The kids drop life-restoring fruit. These are the most important decisions the game offers.
The combat, is clunky and unresponsive. You can choose to hit low or execute a rising attack, but most often you’ll simply want to close the gap and slash away. Lion-O wears the Cat’s Claw, but not employing it as a means of ranged attack to at least stun ranged attackers is a missed opportunity.
A meter beneath the life bar fills gradually over time and by hitting enemies. When topped off you can trigger the Eye of Thundara. This horizontal beam attack will take out most enemies, but it’s never clear how much damage is being done.
The design would have been much improved with life bars (at least for the bosses). It’s impossible to tell if Tygra does more damage than Cheetara, or if an Eye of Thundara blast does more damage to a boss than a sword slash. There are no visual cues (like the sound of multiple hits) to clue players in.
The music is passable, but again, it’s ripped from the cartoon series. There is no voice acting with the exception of Lion-O’s frequent, “Thundercats, HOOOOOOO!” In my youth, I never thought I would get tired of hearing that phrase, but the repetition here has made it so.
As the game progresses, popular villains like Mumm-Ra and Sssssslithe stand in your way. Mid-battle, many of them call in lizard grunts. The ranged ones with arrows and guns continue to cause problems in these situations, because closing the gap in two dimensions means you’re likely going to get hit.
The bosses operate with standard beat-em-up patterns, so figuring out what’s coming isn’t hard. Reacting to the attacks is a different story. Jumping and changing directions is sluggish, and I often found myself compensating for input lag.
You can go back through completed levels for improved scores or to earn concept art, but I have no idea why anyone would want to try. This isn’t a pleasant experience, and having seen much of the cartoon it’s ripped from, there was nothing new to discover. There are some wonderfully tender moments in the television show that are utterly butchered as rushed bookends to the action.
There isn’t much that can be done for the beat-em-up genre to keep it interesting in the current landscape. Thundercats doesn’t even try. The property deserves so much more, and even offering different playable characters (similar to the recently-released Code of Princess) would have gone a long way.
It’s a shame that this title didn’t turn out to be more. As one of my favorite childhood cartoons, I was excited at the possibility of finally getting a videogame worthy of the Thundercats. In no way is this the experience I was hoping for.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Finally a Thundercats game…
– But it’s this Thundercats game
– Sluggish, unresponsive combat
– Episode-by-episode stages leave nothing new for people who have seen the show (i.e. the target audience)
– The one bit of voice acting is repetitive
1 (RIP) to 4 are varying degrees of a bad game. A 1 (RIP) being a game you would actually pay money to not play, and a 4 is something that just fails to reach even the not-so-lofty level of “mediocre.”
Thundercats was developed by Aspect Digital Entertainment and published by Namco Bandai. It was released on October 30, 2012 at the MSRP of $29.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.