Tiny Thor is a puzzle-platformer with a neat hammer-throwing mechanic, lovely graphics, and some strikingly tough challenges. Here’s our review.
The bees. Oh dear god, the bees. There are tiny ones that attack in swarms. There are larger ones that hover in unpredictable patterns and fire back at you with deadly stings. Both threaten to kill you with a single touch, knock you off platforms, or in one nerve-shredding sequence, pursue you clear across a stretch of open countryside like an angry, buzzing cloud.
I mentioned the bees because they’re a good indicator of how much you’ll enjoy Tiny Thor, a jolly-looking platformer that harks back to the kind of 1990s platformers that used to grace the Amiga and Atari ST. If that sounds oddly specific, it’s because there was a clear stylistic difference between the running, jumping action games the likes of Nintendo and Sega were designing in Japan and the platformers that emerged from Europe.
Now, European platformers of the 16-bit era often have a bit of a bad reputation, what with their sometimes rushed presentation, stiff controls and lack of polish. Thankfully, Tiny Thor draws from the best examples of the era than the worst – though do brace yourself from some frustrating, Rick Dangerous-style difficulty spikes here and there. More on those shortly.
The game follows its titular protagonist, a lad who’s so young that he’s only just received his mythical hammer, the Mjolnir, as a birthday present. That hammer comes in particularly useful as he sets off on an adventure across a fantastical landscape of rolling hills and caves. When thrown, the Mjolnir bounces around the screen, breaking up destructible surfaces, slaughtering enemies, flipping switches, and collecting otherwise unreachable gems. Thor can also aim the hammer by holding down the trigger, allowing him to control its angle for precise shots, a little like an early 2D snooker video game.
There’s real pleasure to be found in controlling the Mjolnir, particularly when you pull off a precision hit and then cause it to snap loyally back to your hand with a well-timed press of the button. Tiny Thor’s early levels tidily lay out the hammer’s myriad functions, and the time-honoured pastime of hopping across platforms, collecting gems and solving puzzles has a snappy, polished feel to it.
It doesn’t take long, however, for Tiny Thor to bare its teeth at you. Platforms suspended above deadly spiked pits are positioned to require pixel-perfect jumps. There are swinging vines that require similarly precise timing. Throw in some quite widely spaced-out checkpoints, and you’ll soon encounter sections that many, many attempts to conquer.
Which brings us back, once again, to those bees. One particular area sees you fleeing from a deadly swarm, using your hammer to thin out the morass and buy yourself a few more fractions of a second so you can find refuge. It’s an example of the kind of spikes in difficulty you’ll find dotted around Tiny Thor’s 30 stages, while others include areas with deadly rising water levels (Rainbow Island style), tight corridors lined with actual spikes, and some particularly punishing boss battles, and you have a platformer that may prove a bit frustrating even for experts of the genre.
Exchanging gems for upgrades that boost your attacking and jumping abilities will help tip the odds in your favour a little more, but they still won’t save you if you make a mistake in some of the many sections that require memorisation and carefully-judged movements. Look out for an army of fast-moving penguins that looks adorable at first glance, but soon lose their allure once they’ve killed you for the umpteenth time.
Teeth-grindingly tough though Tiny Thor can be – particularly when compared to other retro-themed platformers, like Shovel Knight – it’s also superbly crafted. Its sprite-work and animation, created by Nauris Amatnieks, Andrew Bado and veteran artist Henk Neiborg, means Tiny Thor is charming to look at in all but its most murky, minimal areas. There’s some catchy music, courtesy of Chris Hülsbeck, another big name from the Amiga era (his previous work includes Turrican and The Great Giana Sisters).
Go into Tiny Thor knowing you’re in for a stern challenge, though, and you’ll find a lovingly-made retro platformer with a truly satisfying hammer mechanic. Just watch out for those bees.
Tiny Thor’s pixel art environments are really something to behold. There are icy mountainscapes and forests shrouded in mist, all topped by those gradient-effect skies you often saw in European platformers for some reason. It’s a little unfortunate that large chunks of the game take place in underground caverns with less to engage the eye, but still, Tiny Thor’s sprite work remains precise and lovely to look at throughout.
A platformer with taut controls, an engaging hammer mechanic, but with level designs that are perhaps a bit too punishing for comfort.
Editor’s Note: Since this review was published, Tiny Thor programmer Joe Manaco has told us that there’ll be a day one patch that will add an “(optional) assist mode for players who don’t enjoy those difficulty spikes”. It goes live today, 3 August, as the Switch version of Tiny Thor launches.