For years I’ve yearned for a video game based on the adventures of the Thunderian felines from the classic ’80s cartoon. Unfortunately, Namco Bandai’s ThunderCats for the DS was not the video game I’ve hoped for.
The game takes place within the first few episodes of the 2011 Cartoon Network reboot, chronicling Lion-O’s crusade to recruit allies in order to defeat the evil Mumm-Ra and his reptilian army. Armed with the Sword of Omens, Lion-O will hack and slash his way through six stages while using a limited move set consisting of a triple-slash combo, a charge attack, a slide, and an aerial downward plunge. The sluggish motions and cumbersome animations of Lion-O’s attacks makes annihilating his enemies a real chore. Most of the damage Lion-O will receive is due to his inadequacy to dodge incoming attacks.
This style of game is not known its variety and depth, but Thundercats manages to provide a frustrating experience. The lack of a defensive maneuver becomes especially aggravating when facing some of the enemies who wield bows ranged rifles or bosses whose far-reaching attacks are near impossible to evade. I helplessly watched as Lion-O repeatedly got stunned by projectiles and lazily rose up from the ground only to be vulnerable to more attacks. Boss fights, which do feature a decent amount of variety in design, often feel like a chore to complete. With no health meter displayed, you are constantly hacking away without any real clue as to how close you are to defeating them.
When your unresponsive attacks fail to respond (which happens often), defeating enemies and summon icons will allow you to activate special attacks with a quick tap on the bottom screen. When Lion-O charges up his energy bar he is able to emit a horizontal beam from the Eye of Thundara to damage foes within its path, while the other special attack allow you to summon fellow ThunderCats. Each of your allies perform either a combative or supportive special – Tygra fires off a fan of bullets (sadly no Bolo whip), Cheetara performs a whirlwind with her staff, while Wilykit and Wilykat supply health and power-up support. It’s difficult to tell if any of these attack cause any substantial damage, but at the very least they will clear the scene of enemies.
The variety of enemies changes from level to level but they aimlessly wonder back and forth until you kill them while enemies with rifles stand back and repeatedly fire. Your progression within ThunderCats becomes even more disjointed when you are exposed to Lion-O’s crude jumping during platforming sections. Lion-O’s tendency to step forward whenever he swings his sword will cause you to die multiple times while facing enemies on a platform. It becomes an absolute nightmare when enemies soak up attacks like sponges and every swing brings you closely to your death. Falling off an edge leads to an instant death and restarting the level.
That’s right, in keeping with the old-school feel of previous hack and slash titles, ThunderCats has no checkpoint. Each of the six stages are divided into sub-stages but the game doesn’t make it clear when your progress has been saved. There isn’t even any sort of indication when one stage ends and another begins, although the slightly longer cutscenes usually signal a new stage. The game, however, only saves progress up to the point of the last completed full stage. It’s easy to believe you have just finished a stage, only to discover that you only completed a sub-section.
The inferior graphics, featuring largely bland character models against muddy, uninteresting backgrounds mimics something that belongs on the GBA. Between the levels you will watch grainy cutscenes composed of scenes from the cartoon and most likely skip through any onscreen text. The audio is also very limited, as you’re guaranteed to mute your system after hearing Lion-O continuously scream “ThunderCats, Hoooo!” whenever a special attack is activated. The soundtrack is decent, but far from memorable. You can go back through completed levels for improved scores or to earn concept art, but besides that there is no real reason to replay this title.
ThunderCats for the DS should’ve been a nostalgic action title, but what we got was a game with vastly inferior controls, underwhelming gameplay, and uninspired overall game design. It’s a mess and a missed opportunity that continues the curse of the licensed video games.
Release Date: October 30, 2012 • Publisher: Namco Bandai • Developer: Aspect Digital Entertainment • Genre: Action • Multiplayer: None • Achievements: None • Cost: $29.99 • Replay Value: Low