One of the most pleasant surprises of the current golden age of animated shows is Cartoon Network’s Thundercats reboot. Regrettably, that pleasure doesn’t carry over to this video game tie-in from Bandai. The first inkling of trouble might be the fact that it’s only available on Nintendo DS. Not Vita or 3DS, just the now basically retired DS. That throwback ethos carries over to the actual gameplay, which has more in common with Sega Genesis era actioners than even the most basic of modern side-scrolling games readily available on every mobile phone platform and many websites. For example, The Legend of Korra official website has a free similar game with better graphics and more entertainment than this game. It’s hard to justify shelling out $30 for this subpar effort when there’s so much more out there for free or very low priced apps. Actually, there’s no apparent technical reason this game couldn’t be an app, and Bandai should look into converting it to get it in front of more people.
The game roughly attempts to follow the story arc of season one of the new show. Basically, the developers just take a few stills from choice episodes, throw in a little unifying text, and use those sequences as bumpers in between each mission. Unfortunately, those missions have no story, tasking players to just go from point A to point B and button-mash all the way to the end level boss battle. Players take the role of chief cat Lion-O, swinging his legendary Sword of Omens as he jumps and fights evil critters in his way. The more you battle, the more your sword powers up, and when your sword meter hits the top you can unleash a mighty blast from the sword that inflicts massive damage on whatever is in its path. The sword powers up pretty quickly in heated battle (which is most of the time), so you’ll be unleashing that blast around once a minute assuming you’re paying attention to its meter.
To try to add some variety and get the other cat characters in play, the game employs a card battle system that isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. As you complete missions, you get cards that represent other cats, so for example after you complete the first stage you get Tygra’s card. Assuming you’ve picked up a special item in battle that lets you select a card, you can call him into battle to provide backup support. Each cat has a different power, although I’m still not entirely sure what Cheetara’s is and it’s not explained anywhere in the documentation. Kit and Kat share a card, and since they’re weak fighters their special skill is to pop up and provide you with extra health items and occasional other boosts. Note that none of them fight by your side, they literally just appear for a second, do their special power, and vanish again.
As if the button-mashing wasn’t repetitive and frustrating enough on its own, the boss battles are overlong and offer absolutely no indication of your progress. If you lose, you don’t have any extra lives and you don’t go back to the beginning of the boss battle, you go back to the very beginning of the level, making repeated play to get past a boss an entirely unrewarding proposition. Today’s gamers (especially cranky old veterans like me) expect to be able to continue making progress via extra lives or reasonable save points, not get bogged down in endless slashing just to get back to lengthy and seemingly insurmountable boss battles. Considering the target audience is realistically under 10 years old, in spite of the game’s 10+ guideline, it’s mind-boggling that Bandai set the difficulty level fairly high, and even worse, offered no option to change it.
The game plays out entirely on the DS top screen, with the bottom touch screen only being used to house the four support character cards and an alternate Sword of Omens meter. The graphics are fairly poor, even for a DS game, with Lion-O barely recognizable aside from the omnipresent “Thundercats HOOOOO!” vocalization he utters randomly about once a minute. That’s the only apparent voice acting in the game, and doesn’t even sound like the actor from the show. Likewise, the minimalistic music doesn’t borrow from the show’s decent soundtrack either, making it seem like Bandai didn’t license anything from the series other than the animation stills. I know they own the toy rights, so this game tie-in seems more like a link to their action figures than the entertaining cartoon. Frankly, you’ll have more fun playing with Bandai’s well-done action figures than this game, so you’re better off spending your money that way if you’re intent on purchasing Thundercats goods.