Publisher: Namco Bandai
I hate to start reviews with the old, “when I was a kid” bit, but I do remember having a whole lot of fondness for the original Thundercats cartoon growing up. I’ve not paid a great deal of attention to the modern show, so I can’t speak for its quality, but I can certainly speak for the game and its lack thereof.
I’m actually a bit surprised that this is the first video game adaptation for the show, either new or old, that I can ever remember playing. And I suppose if this is what we can expect out of such efforts, maybe the world is better off without a videogame version of Thundercats gracing store shelves. Seriously folks, this one is pretty awful, for a variety of reasons.
One of the primary reasons is because of Thundercats tepid, beat ‘em up gameplay. I enjoy a good beat ‘em up as much as the next guy, after all, I was pretty excited to get my hands on classic Konami titles like X-Men and The Simpsons, despite the fact that neither game has aged considerably well in comparison to modern day games. But despite lacking modern bells and whistles, they at least get one thing right, which is giving you ample bad guys to knock around, and a control system that feels like it works. Thundercats sort of gets the first one right, but the controls are everything but good.
The gameplay for Thundercats features a number of stages with a 2D backdrop, wherein you’ll control series lead Lion-O as you battle it out with nefarious Lizard Men, Mumm-Ra, and some other dudes. To do so, you’ll swing the Sword of Omens again and again, in small combo strikes, along with a limited charged up ability that allows you to chant the classic “Thundercats, Hooooo!” line that seems to be one of the few moments of fan service the game is capable of delivering. The last ability given will allow you to call on your fellow Thundercats to provide some short, time constrained support attack, but you’ll never get full control over the various characters, which in itself feels like a massive misstep.
Beat ‘em ups aren’t necessarily known for their variety and depth, but Thundercats takes that to a whole different level. While you can string together a small number of hits with flashy sword strikes, you’ll find yourself unable to move or break away from missed swings. Lion-O also has no form of defense, no block and no dodge, so most of the game feels like a massive battle of attrition. Even your jump functionality, which does allow you to double jump, feels awkward and slow, often not useful outside of the small bits of platforming required.
Enemies don’t amount to much in Thundercats either, with the same three or four types of Lizardmen being constantly doled out. Like most beat ‘em up foes they’re brain dead cannon fodder, often rushing in to attack. One annoying variation will come equipped with a laser gun, which can be a frustrating encounter since your abilities are relegated strictly to melee, and your defenses are so lacking.
Boss fights, which do feature a decent amount of variety in design, often feel like a chore to complete. The lack of any kind of progress or health bar while fighting enemies means that you’ll constantly be hacking away at bosses without any real clue as to how close you are to defeating them. And bosses tend to be damage sponges, taking an obscene amount of damage with little to no end in sight. Another negative against the boss design is that while you’ll eventually be able to manipulate patterns, there’s no real give and take to the fights. No apparent weakness to either exploit or look for, and no unique mechanic to help differentiate one boss from the next, other than their attack types.
Overall, Thundercats on the Nintendo DS is definitely a dud. I’ve not played a more lackluster licensed action game in quite a while, and it sort of breaks my heart to see one of my classic kid cartoon franchises get treated with such little care. This is little more than a quick cash grab on a recognizable name, and you’d do well to avoid this at all costs.