Thor is not your typical superhero. As a Norse god, he spends more time concerned with the mythical realm of Asgard than with happenings here on Earth. Millennia old, he commands the power of thunder, and with his hammer Mjolnir, he can fly at supersonic speeds in the Earth's atmosphere and exceed the speed of light in space. But despite these exceptional qualities, he now finds himself starring in an unremarkable game. Thor: God of Thunder for the DS is a throwback to the side-scrolling brawlers of old. But it fails to recognize that the best brawlers keep things exciting by regularly sending intimidating new enemies your way and encouraging you to change up your approach to survive. Some impressive boss fights occasionally give this shallow game a momentary spark, but more often than not, Thor makes wielding the powers of a god about as exciting as wielding an umbrella.
Thor bears the likeness of actor Chris Hemsworth, and Odin looks like Anthony Hopkins, but the game does not follow the events of the new film. Our hero doesn't find himself on Earth romancing a woman who looks like Natalie Portman. Instead, Thor, who apparently hasn't studied enough Norse mythology to know that you should never trust a god named Loki, heeds some advice from his trickster brother and unwittingly stirs up an evil force that threatens all of Asgard. It's not a compelling tale, but it's a decent enough excuse for Thor to go traipsing through Vanaheim, Niflheim, and other places that end in "heim."
The game looks good. The character portraits used to advance the story are large and attractive. Layered, richly detailed backgrounds give each realm a terrific sense of depth, and elements like rain and volcanic ash in the foreground make the action feel firmly located in these worlds. The sight of clouds drifting across the top screen as you fight on the bottom screen lends these mythical lands a sense of scope. And, the ability to make Thor bound effortlessly from the lower screen into the sky high above fosters the feeling that you're controlling a hero whose powers far exceed those of ordinary men.
But alas, Thor is a thoroughly standard and frequently dull 2D brawler. You play as the titular god of thunder, and you run, leap, and hammer your way through the 21 acts spread across seven chapters that make up the game's Story mode. Thor's only weapon is the hammer Mjolnir, and he can unleash powerful strikes with it or throw it at enemies, after which, it conveniently returns like a boomerang. Thor can also roll to avoid enemy attacks, and his godly leg muscles can send him straight up into the air with tremendous speed. From the sky, he can crash down to damage enemies and launch them up off the ground, making it easy to follow up with hammer strikes. And, Thor can grab enemies, as well as rip massive sections from pillars, bringing the pillars crashing down and giving Thor a huge stone that he can hit enemies with or throw at them. Hidden in these pillars, you sometimes find runes you can equip to customize Thor a bit. These grant benefits like increased strength or the ability to inflict fire damage on enemies with each attack. Vanquished enemies often yield red orbs that restore Thor's health or blue orbs that fill Thor's god power meter. When this meter is at least half-full, Thor can call in a lightning strike, an energy shockwave, or a blast of wind that sends enemies flying.
Despite this decent variety of powers and abilities, though, combat is usually a slog. You can repeat the same simple attacks over and over again to defeat each wave of enemies, so it's easy to fall into a rut of just standing at one end of the screen and repeatedly throwing Mjolnir. Or you might simply launch enemies into the air with a ground pound, whack them a few times as they float helplessly in the air, and then repeat the process. As a result, combat quickly becomes boring. New waves of enemies never change things up or require you to rethink your approach. The foes you encounter in Niflheim may look different from those you encounter in Hel, but they always fall into the same few categories. There are garden-variety fighters who will hack at you with their weapons if they get close enough, long-range archers, hulking brutes, and little scamps that have an annoying tendency to clamber up onto Thor. There's some simple satisfaction to be gleaned from clobbering these bad guys at first, but when they're the same bad guys you can defeat in the same simple ways throughout the game's roughly six-hour duration, these fights quickly become tedious.
The only occasional break from this tedium comes from the boss fights that cap each chapter. These monsters are often huge enough to fill both screens; though they're never especially challenging once you recognize their attack patterns and discover their weaknesses, the sheer spectacle of these battles infuses them with some excitement. While battling the frost giant Ymir, for instance, you are inhaled into its body, and you can then see Thor as a silhouetted figure through the wall of ice that is Ymir's chest. Another enemy can grab Thor and shake him like a rag doll, and a towering later boss sometimes retreats into the background, from whence he tosses massive pillars and shoots lasers into the foreground. Taking down these tremendous foes makes you feel powerful, and it captures some of the excitement you'd expect from a game that lets you step into the armor of Thor.
But these memorable moments aren't enough to make hammering your way through wave after wave of enemies worthwhile. Occasionally, you must contend with other hazards, like a shower of massive boulders falling from the sky and an acid rain that Thor must shield himself from by carrying a large stone. These occasional meteorological issues make the various realms you travel through feel more diverse and alive, but they don't do much to liven up the gameplay.
In addition to the Story mode, there's a Survival mode in which you see how long you can stay alive while fighting off wave after wave of enemies. The combat is no more exciting here than in the Story mode, so there's little reason to bother with this option. There's also a mode called Frostgrinder Assault, in which you play through a brief and easy side mission undertaken by three characters during the story. Initially, there are three playable characters available for this mode, but you can unlock the option to play through this mode as almost any of the supporting Norse gods that appear in the story. Although the characters feel quite different from each other--Sif's swift swordplay is a far cry from Volstagg's ponderous axe swinging, for instance--there's little fun to be had in walking down a hallway and fighting off waves of trolls because the same mindless button mashing leads you to victory no matter which character you choose. Unfortunately, that mindless button mashing defines the majority of this experience. It has a few electrifying moments, but most of Thor is more of a light drizzle than a thunderstorm.