A Tale of Two Thors

SEGA sent me two copies of "Thor: God of Thunder" for review: one for the Wii, one for the Xbox 360.

The same story — one different from the recent movie's plot — is told in both games, but it's conveyed in different ways due to the power difference between the consoles. In fact, the play mechanics are also very different between the two versions.

This results in one game I like and one I don't.

OK, I started off with the 360 version. And I'll tell you, the first time I played it, I hated it. Hated, hated, hated it.

The graphics felt so-so, the controls mushy and unresponsive, the combat stilted and repetitive, the enemies dimwitted and unreactive. I played to the first boss encounter, got fed up and quit.

Then I switched to the Wii version. Quite surprisingly, as I started playing, I didn't hate it. Not one little bit.

OK, the graphics were weaker. Frost giants aren't exactly giant in this version, for example. But the controls were quick and responsive, and the combat was a fun arcade-style blitzkrieg as a result.

It was night and day between the two versions. I'll note, however, that once I finished playing on the Wii, I went back to the 360 version and didn't hate it quite as much. I still don't think it's a very good game, but maybe not as noxious as my first impression led me to believe.

Both games are meant to be robust hack-and-slash adventures.

In the Wii version, the controls mix up button mashing and Wiimote (and nunchuk) waggling, making it easy to transition between pounding giants, trolls, demons and the like with Thor's mighty hammer Mjolnir, calling down lightning and whipping up whirlwinds.

And the enemies react to your blows, staggering about and the like, so you don't have to question whether you're connecting or not.

A nice action-oriented pace is kept up throughout the game, with foes besetting you at every turn. There's no wandering down empty corridors.

Yet it's not all a toe-to-toe slugfest. On occasion, "Thor" becomes akin to a shooter, with you blasting targets with lightning and dodging fire as the blond Asgardian flies along a predetermined path.

And the few waggle-oriented quick-time events you'll encounter (during boss fights and the like), where you must wave the controller in unison with on-screen inputs, don't really interrupt the pace of the game.

Is "Thor: God of Thunder" for Wii a fantastic, must-have title? No, but it's definitely playable, and not a bad way to spend an afternoon or two.

The Xbox 360 version, however, isn't nearly as good.

OK, I'll give it credit that frost giants look giant, and other enemies are well-designed too.

But the combat isn't nearly as satisfying in this version. The controls, as I said, feel mushy and unresponsive, with the odd bit of lag occurring between my orders to attack or jump and the command's actual execution.

Also, animations lag behind the action taking place. For instance, if you pummel a giant while it's attacking you, its actions will continue unimpeded. But once the attack animations finish playing, the giant will suddenly fall on its back, helpless — even if you've already moved on to another foe. It's just messy.

And Thor's flashier powers aren't nearly as well integrated, mostly because the Odinforce energy you need to use them is easily discharged and hard to replenish. It's quite the opposite from the Wii, where Odinforce is easy to come by.

So instead of mixing up what you're doing in battle, you'll just execute the same attack combos ad nauseum, until you beat the arena area and get to plod down some empty corridors for a while.

The odd action puzzle is thrown in to break up the monotony, such as timing a jump over some ice spears, but those sections feel like more of an after-thought than anything else. And really, wouldn't Thor just smash the spears aside? He's never been big on dodging away from danger — in the comics or the myths. He's the sort of brash fellow who takes the hit and taunts, "Is that all thou hast?"

There's boss battles in this version too, of the "Legend of Zelda" variety. Watch as the boss attacks in the same repetitive pattern, then hop in and deliver some hits during his vulnerable phase. Repeat until the battle's over. Yawn.

I'll be honest. If the controls were patched to fix their responsiveness, the Xbox 360 version would probably rise to the level of mediocre. But until that happens, it's less than mighty.

"Thor: God of Thunder"
Publisher: SEGA.
Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii, PS3. Reviewed on Xbox 360 and Wii.
Price: $49.99 Xbox 360, PS3. $39.99 Wii.
Rating: T for Teen.
Recommendation: The Wii version is a decent, arcade-style action platformer and worth at least a rent. The Xbox 360 version on the other hand (and the PS3 game, by extension) just isn't very good. I'd avoid it, in general.
 

Images courtesy of Sega
First: Thor's appearance in the games is modeled on his look in the movie. Here's how he looks on the Xbox 360.
Second: Thor tackles a fiery minion of Surtur in the Wii version.
Third: Flying and blasting things with lightning becomes a mini-game in the Wii version.
Fourth: Thor takes on Ulik the Troll on the Xbox 360.

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