Most gamers know what they’re getting with a Ratalaika Games release: a short game packed full of easy achievements. Thunder Paw certainly lives up to that reputation. It’ll only take a few hours to finish, and you’ll have the full 1000 Gamerscore sitting in your account just over halfway through the game. Great for achievement hunters…
…not so for everyone else though. Because Thunder Paw isn’t a fun game to play through. Spending time on this retro-styled run and gun platformer has just left me feeling annoyed.
The story follows Thunder, who has had his house blown up and his parents kidnapped whilst out playing one day. A note left behind warns our heroic pooch that his parents will die if he gets involved. Undeterred, he sets out to save the day. You’re dropped right into the action, and told to kill every enemy to open up the exit at the end of the level. So far, so good.
Except that it quickly becomes clear that there is no real challenge here. For the most part, Thunder Paw is so easy that it ends up becoming boring. The platforming is largely elementary, and the enemies are mere cannon fodder. And then the checkpoints are better than usual, because they count every enemy that you killed up to the point at which you died. Even the minor setback of having to re-kill a few bad guys is absent from Thunder Paw.
The only real battle you’ll fight in this game is with your weapon itself. Because every gun you come across has a slight knockback effect on it that will push you backwards with every bullet you fire. At first it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But as you advance through the later stages and encounter enemies perched on tiny platforms, it becomes a major annoyance. Those enemies that were so easy to beat at the beginning suddenly become incredibly finicky to kill. Add to that the fact that none of the weapons feel powerful enough, and you have a run and gun platformer where it isn’t particularly fun to gun.
And then you get to the boss fights. Here, the problems plaguing the combat in the standard levels are amplified tenfold. Because your weapon has almost no range and feels like a pea shooter, you need to get up close and personal and then stay there. It’s a high-risk strategy, made worse by the fact that each boss has a set of cheap projectile attacks that always seem to hit you, even when you were sure that you were nowhere near them. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll slip up. I can’t tell you how many times I put hundreds of bullets into a boss, only to die near the very end to some projectile from outta nowhere, left to do it all again. It is frustrating at best, and utterly rage-inducing at worst. You don’t even get a sweet reward for all the trouble you went through.
Don’t get me wrong, these fights stop the combat from becoming completely stale by offering up some much needed variety. It’s just that they seem too unreasonably difficult by comparison to the main stages, especially considering that the game goes back to being mind-numbingly easy once you’ve defeated a boss.
Luckily the platforming is slightly better, but that’s not really saying much. It’s all simple stuff, consisting of a few jumps here and there. Even so, there are problems with it. Too often an attempt to jump a chasm has ended with me running off the edge of a cliff to my doom, inevitably because the game hadn’t recognised that I had pressed jump.
Still, Thunder Paw isn’t totally irredeemable. The levels are actually rather well designed and deeper than they initially appear. Each one is a mess of intersecting paths, packed full of hidden collectibles, weapon upgrades, enemies and environmental hazards. There’s a real freedom as to how you tackle each level, something which I particularly appreciated.
In addition, there’s a real charm to the presentation. This is a game that has really nailed the retro feel it was aiming for. The enemies and levels look great, as does the top dog himself. In fact, Thunder’s design ends up making him a protagonist that is very easy to like. The jaunty chiptunes are just the icing on the cake.
Thunder Paw on Xbox One looks like a game from the mid-90s. Unfortunately, it plays like one too. At its core, it’s a run and gun platformer that doesn’t succeed at either. The platforming is too simple to be fun and the combat is horrible. When it isn’t mind-numbingly easy, it’s ridiculously frustrating. As a result, I can’t recommend Thunder Paw. In fact, I feel the only people who will end up getting something worthwhile out of this game are achievement hunters, who can add this one to the ever-growing list of easy completions.