There are a lot of retro platformers out there these days, and pixel art just isn't enough to catch the consumer's eye like it used to be. You need something to stand out from the pack. That might be a unique mechanic, an unusual setting style, or the kind of tooth-grinding difficulty that gets people talking.
Tiny Thor brings a little bit of everything to the table. With its distinctive action/puzzle hybrid gameplay and stern challenge level, it has a lot to offer to the retro enthusiast.
It is the birthday of Thor, the God of Thunder. Taking his first visit to Midgard, he falls from the rainbow bridge and lands in a human village. A wanderer tells him that the village is under threat by a monster, and Thor sets off with his birthday present - the flying hammer Mjolnir - to perform his first act of heroism. But this simple task proves to be part of a greater scheme by Loki to trigger the start of Ragnarok, and it's up to Thor (with some assistance from the ravens Huginn and Muninn) to save Asgard.
As you might imagine, Tiny Thor plays a little loose with Norse mythology, but there's enough detail here that you might learn something (Do you know what a singasteinn is? I didn't before this!). In any case, it's enough to get you started on an old-school 2D platformer with a period-appropriate level of difficulty.
Seriously, Tiny Thor is very hard - but we'll get back to that.
Structurally, Tiny Thor is a blend of the old and the new. The game is carved into linear, self-contained stages, but the player also collects new abilities like in a Metroidvania game. Backtracking isn't required, though - the player will always have the tools to collect everything (including Blue Gems used to purchase nonessential upgrades and Red Diamonds used to unlock bonus stages) without needing anything other than what one has been given.
The key mechanic in this game lies with Mjolnir. Thor attacks by throwing his hammer, which returns when he catches it or pushes the attack button again. It also bounces off of solid objects and will bank around indefinitely until Thor recalls it. If needed, the player can also take careful aim and launch Mjolnir at odd angles. This bounciness is critical to mastering combat, especially against bosses. Trap Mjolnir between an enemy and a wall, and it will essentially fight on its own while Thor dodges attacks.
Mjolnir is also needed to solve some puzzles. While this is primarily an action platformer, there are also a fair number of block-and-switch puzzles that often demand the judicious use of Thor's bouncy hammer. You may, for example, have to bounce Mjolnir off a wall so that it strikes a floating box that you're standing on, slowly pushing it forward.
Let's now return to the issue of Tiny Thor's difficulty. The "difficult platformer" label gets applied very generously and I've never taken it all that seriously, but this is one time when it definitely fits. This game hurts sometimes.
The first set of levels is very easy, but that doesn't last. The difficulty ramps up in a hurry - the more abilities Thor possesses, the more the game demands of the player, including mastering mechanics (such as using a double jump to cancel out of another ability) that would be advanced skills in most games. It can also be hard in more ways than one - highly precise platforming, head-scratching puzzles, and combinations of the two wherein the player must make split-second decisions while under time pressure.
Oh, and those bonus levels I mentioned above? Those exist if Tiny Thor is too easy for you. The challenge levels beyond are strict tests of the player's mastery of one or two particular skills. Be glad that they're optional.
Overall, Tiny Thor is a very good platformer that strikes a fine balance between old-school design and novel mechanics. Mjolnir is very intuitive to use, the controls are tight even with the protagonist's full suite of moves, and as hard as the game can be, it is at least fair. For anyone who spent their youth crushing carts on the Genesis or SNES, Tiny Thor is strongly recommended.
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