Young Thor

He's a Mini God

Young Thor is many things -- most notably the most ambitious Minis entry yet.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 1, 2010
Something intriguing is happing with the Quebecois developers at Frima Studio. Whereas most dev houses have either completely ignored Sony's little Minis initiative or have made half-assed attempts at making something for the 100MB-or-less App Store-style overhead, the French Canadians have instead embraced it, and the result is Young Thor. Though it's absolutely imperative to process what's been cobbled together here in the space of just 50MB as a bite-sized offering, the attempts at weaving a story, a progressive series of unlocks and a novel approach to reusing the same handful of levels deserves a quick look.


While Young Thor doesn't come anywhere near a full-blown PSP title, it's clearly not meant to be. Developers like Halfbrick have done a fantastic job of either remixing their Xbox Indie Games or iPhone Apps into something that feels at home on Sony's handheld, but even they haven't glommed onto the platform as a ground-up base for new IPs quite like Frima did. What's present in the five dollar Mini is an interesting distraction, and an unmistakable test bed for future efforts.

All the ambition and novelty in the world can't save a game from being worthless, though, if the fundamentals aren't sound and it's here that Young Thor ends up being most interesting. Sure, the graphics are simple and the controls slightly clunky, but a mix of light Devil May Cry-style juggle-friendly melee combat and a slowly developing series of abilities keeps things interesting for the most part.

The idea, you see, is to make multiple runs through the same few levels, though the types of enemies and difficulty ends up ramping up as you do. Thor himself is constantly soaking up experience along with all the damage he takes from enemies, and as he does, his attacks end up gaining strength along with the enemy numbers. It's not as amazing as it could be; the level layouts are generally a left-to-right affair with very, very light platforming and double-jumping opportunities, but they're certainly above the kind of the stuff you'd see in 99% of other Minis.

That context makes the level of effort present here that much more impressive. Minis aren't really the stuff of Achievements (an interesting choice of terminology for in-game awards given that it's on a Sony system, but the Trophies and PSP aren't really meant to be used together right now), but Young Thor has 'em (50, in fact, though they're typical "kill X number of this enemy" or "hit level X" accomplishments). Nor are rather lushly visualized cutscenes or an actual bookending storyline present to this degree.

Despite the game's stiffness and slightly bland backdrops, there was some obvious attention paid to making each level a sort of battle-weary story. You'll traipse through towns and forests and caves and castles, and none of them stick with those themes for very long. The levels themselves are rather short, but Frima has fun playing with the camera, creating the odd bit of vertigo or bending the camera when it makes for cinematic moments. By far the most interesting of these are during boss fights, where scale and animation detail are given more of a chance to shine. Common grunts don't exhibit amazing animations, but the bigger enemies often are felled with an impressive amount of fluidity and of course special attacks are given plenty of oomph.

What's puzzling about things is that Frima didn't exactly front-load the game with these moments. You'd be forgiven for thinking things rather simple if you just play through the first level, but when things start to close out, there's far more in the way of oohs and ahhs. While combat is clearly not meant to be incredibly deep, it and the game's occasionally wonky collision can make some of the frequent moments where you're locked into an area with bigger enemies a little painful. The game can suffer from the odd difficulty spike, something that's mitigated by grinding past levels to get Thor's damage up, but generally it's fine if you take things in small bites.

That is something of a conundrum, however; this is meant to be a game played in short bursts, lest tedium start to set in, but you'll have to run through levels a few times before you can finish off some bosses. If your threshold for repetition is low, this may not be the best little experiment for you, even if it is rather cheap.

If Minis are to become anything more than one-off gameplay attempts (like Sony's Japan Studio has done so far, none of which are worth the money), it's clear Frima Studio's example must be followed. iPhone ports, when done well, are well and good, but Young Thor makes it plain to see there is room for something unique to the PSP. Sadly, this may well end up being a one-time testing of the Minis waters, but if Frima does indeed make another go at things, perhaps polishing up the controls just a bit more and adding just a bit more variety to things, that $5 price tag is going to look like a steal next to the rest of the Minis library.
The Verdict
7.0

As a retail game, Young Thor is merely adequate with its charm and ambition almost doing more than the gameplay can. As a Mini, however, it's the new benchmark for how these things should and can be done, and we can only hope it continues.

7.0Graphics:

Not amazing for the most part, but when the game decides to unhook the camera, there can be some surprisingly impressive results.

5.0Sound:

There's almost nothing in the way of voice work, and the repetition in sound effects and light music loops can tend to add to the feeling of tedium.

7.5Control:

Again, there are some issues with collision (usually when jumping up and against something where Thor can get hung up) and some of the platforming can feel a little wonky, but the combat is fairly solid and grows nicely.

7.0Gameplay:

For what it is, Young Thor manages to hit on all the base criteria. This is not a game meant for extended play, but there's certainly enough content to come back regularly.