Before Thor was a hulking monster calling thunder down from the skies to smite his foes, what do you think he got up to? Thanks to Tiny Thor, a new puzzle-platformer from the folks at Asylum Square, you no longer need to wonder. It turns out the answer to that question is simple: he was making his way through a series of side-scrolling puzzle-platformer levels, using Mjolnir to mop up collectible gems and deal with pesky ghosts, snails, and other foes. Not quite what I'd pictured for Odin's son, but hey, you do you, Thor.
It's young Thor's birthday, and Odin and the other gods of Asgard have planned an almighty birthday party for him. Unfortunately, Thor finds himself cast down from Asgard accidentally, and it isn't long before he blunders into a scheme designed to bring about Ragnarok and destroy the world as he knows it. He'll have to thwart that scheme, earning the right to his godhood along the way. It's a journey that occasionally delights, usually entertains, and frustrates far more often than it should thanks to frankly monstrous difficulty and a few questionable design decisions.
Tiny Thor's Mechanics Are Ambitious But Frustrating
At its foundation, Tiny Thor has two main gameplay pillars. The first is a fairly standard platformer, complete with the usual abilities; you'll unlock a double jump, an air dash, and a ground pound over the course of the game, and you'll be expected to use all of them to make your way through levels after you unlock them. The second is where things get interesting.
Mjolnir is, of course, Thor's signature weapon, and Tiny Thor has you making the most of your mighty hammer. You can either "hip fire" Mjolnir by simply pressing the throw button, or you can press and hold a key to start aiming, setting up a trick shot. You'll need these trick shots to solve many of Tiny Thor's puzzles and to defeat some of its enemies as well.
Asylum Square finds plenty of creative and fun ways to use Mjolnir.
When it works, this mechanic is fun enough. Mjolnir doesn't quite have the impact or heft that it should; all too often, hurling the God of Thunder's hammer simply feels like splatting enemies with rotten fruit. Granted, Thor is a child at this point, but Mjolnir doesn't have any growing up to do, so it would have been nice to feel its weight as you hurl it at enemies, switches, and blocks a little more.
Despite this lack of impact, Asylum Square finds plenty of creative and fun ways to use Mjolnir. You might, for instance, need to throw it at two walls in order to bounce it back and forth between switches while you run through the doors they open above. Alternatively, you may need to use it to create paths in front of you, angling it just right so the paths created get you to where you need to go.
Unfortunately, although there are plenty of well-designed puzzles in Tiny Thor, they're often soured by how fiddly and awkward Mjolnir can feel to use. If your angle is off by a degree or two when you throw your hammer, it can often result in failing a puzzle or dying instantly, necessitating a restart from your last checkpoint. This quickly starts to grate as the timings become tighter and the margin of error becomes narrower, which happens early into the campaign.
This lack of leeway is matched by the platforming, too. Some of the jumping and dashing sequences Tiny Thor asks you to pull off feel like big asks in the face of mechanics that just feel subtly off. More than once, I slammed into a mushroom intended to launch me across a sequence of mushrooms (during which I couldn't move), only to die right at the end of the sequence because the angle of my entry had been very slightly off. Moments like this feel cheap and unfair, and sadly, they're all too common throughout Tiny Thor's 30-plus levels.
Difficulty In Tiny Thor Is Stratospheric
Make no mistake: if you're expecting Tiny Thor to give you an easy time, you're in for a rude awakening. While things start off fairly easy, Tiny Thor quickly ramps up in challenge, and by the end, it feels like a masocore platformer akin to Celeste or Super Meat Boy. The level of challenge becomes completely insane, and as the platforming sequences become lengthier, your reflexes need to be razor-sharp, which, for me at least, was an inordinately stressful experience.
Let me pause for a moment to show my credentials. I adore Hollow Knight; it's one of my favorite games of all time. I'm also a big fan of the Souls series and its associates, and I love Super Meat Boy as well. I'm not averse to difficult platformers, but Tiny Thor feels like it stretches the point and then keeps going long after the fabric has snapped. This game just loves murdering you because you missed the tenth part of an eleven-part jump-dash-Mjolnir-ground pound-jump sequence, and if you die, it's almost always right back to the checkpoint to try again.
You'll do it exactly as Asylum Square wants you to, or you'll die.
To Tiny Thor's credit, those checkpoints aren't infrequent (except in the optional challenge levels, which you'll only take on if you have a masochistic streak), and there's no lives system, so you're free to try as many times as you want. Still, the fact that Tiny Thor could be more frustrating than it is doesn't negate its current level of frustration; getting to try again infinitely only highlights the shortcomings of these extremely precisely-designed, inflexible platforming setpieces. You're not really given any kind of creative freedom to solve puzzles as you see fit. You'll do it exactly as Asylum Square wants you to, or you'll die.
Things improve when it comes to Tiny Thor's boss battles. These are well-designed for the most part, asking you to use your skills in interesting ways. One boss might need you to stun its giant hands with Mjolnir before you slam buttons on the top of the hands to deal damage, for instance, while another could ask you to knock a kraken's tentacles back into the water so you don't get swept away. They're fun, involving, and, more to the point, brief, so they mostly don't suffer from the same issues as the core levels do.
If Tiny Thor's presentation was a little better, it might have served to offset the frustration, but this aspect of Asylum Square's game is a decidedly unbalanced affair. The pixel art is well-crafted, and the animation is sumptuous and fluid, but the music did absolutely nothing for me. It sounds like the Zelda CD-i games, somehow simultaneously lifelessly forgettable and bizarrely annoying, and it made running a level for the eleven billionth time that much more controller-snappingly irritating.
Tiny Thor | Final Thoughts
Tiny Thor has a lot going for it. Mjolnir is fun to wield, and the puzzles that use it well, along with puzzles that have you manipulating your environment in clever and interesting ways, are compelling and addictive. The problem, though, is that Tiny Thor is about ten times harder than it needs to be. Loki has waved his dread staff over Asylum Square's game, creating an experience that feels like it delights in wrong-footing you and murdering you at every turn. Give Tiny Thor a try if you want to see an ambitious core concept find its feet, but don't stick around if you don't like to cry while you smile.
Tiny Thor was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 9 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Lovely, well-animated pixel art
- Well-designed Mjolnir puzzles
- Clever environment design
- Screamingly high difficulty
- Trial-and-error frustration
- Weak, repetitive soundtrack