Volgarr the Viking launches on steam in just 3 days and it should bring a whole new meaning to the word “difficult”. The game is challenging yet offers a very rewarding experience no matter what play style you prefer and demands attention with its convincing 16-bit graphics full of color and great level design. With each thrust of your sword, each tantalizing upgrade and every charged up spear throw that impales 5 enemies on a pike as it flies through the level, you’ll be met with varying enemies and even more variety in problems you face. I spent the first two hours of this game on the first level just because I wanted to ensure I played it perfectly and got everything in the level. I progressed through to the second level and half an hour met the first boss, after getting one shot almost instantly from what looked like a giant shield wielding ogre, I put the controller down to write immediately.
Volgarr the Viking is a unique game in my eyes, I would liken it to a more modern yet creative 16-bit CastleVania. The game features a Viking with no back story given at all, you are thrown into what looks like the main screen yet after a bit of tweaking you find out there is no main screen at all, and you start the game immediately. There is very little direction in the game at all aside from a few pop ups telling you how to use the basic fighting moves, you can throw a spear, you can roll, and you can double jump. As for how items work, what enemies do, where to go and what do, you are self-taught by small examples and your own intuition. The first item you pick up is a shield with a large hammer on it that “shows” you how to have a more effective spear, when the item is picked up your character throws a massive spear that cuts down all enemies in your path. After I found out that you can charge your spear up and cleave down all enemies with this massive attack, I was very pleased to also find out when I took damage and the shield disappeared, the ability also did as well.
Each level you progress to you come across a blue crystal and you are rewarded with one piece of gear, that both rewards you with one more effective “hitpoint” as well as offers a bonus. That’s right, there is no health in Volgarr besides the items you carry on you and enemies don’t have health either. Each time you take damage, you lose one of the precious items giving you an ability or a power, when you’ve lost them all you die and restart at the beginning. The lack of a checkpoint throughout the level forcing you back to the start at first seems very disheartening that you lost all progress, but you get into a routine and it allows you to actually form a consistent path through the level that forces you to memorize the enemy attacks and movements. The design is brilliant in its execution but fairly simple to understand.
The entire game is essentially built around instinct and intuition as well as how creative yet precise you can get with your actions.
Deceivingly simple yet terrifyingly complex.
Volgarr the Viking offers something that is very scary yet also calming at the same time, and that comes in the form of its deceivingly simple looks and gameplay, but extremely complicated requirement of execution. The game is set at the pace you’d like to, it has the exact same repetitive manner that a roguelike is set it but excludes the random aspect of it. You progress through the level hacking and slashing all enemies that are in your path, throwing spears and cleaving your enemies down while trying to overcome the seemingly impossible puzzles that the game provides in the manner of simple platforms. As you progress further through the levels you encounter many situations that you may have to play very precisely or face death. Whether it’s saving your double jump for the exact right time to throw a spear at the perfect angle to take out a spider, or double jumping to thrust your sword down onto an enemy that would otherwise overwhelm you.
The game offers near perfect controller support and the platforming is very precise and very calculated. It allows a fast play style if you like to hack and slash your way to victory without any consequences, or allows a slow but strategic playstyle, each have their own rewards. It’s always a pleasure to see a good team of developers introduce a very methodic yet rewarding experience and Volgarr the Viking offers just that. The controls are almost flawless aside from a few mishaps with the D-pad and occasional input errors. The lack of a checkpoint is frustrating at first but you eventually come to the realization that the system in place works very well, you memorize the level and you progress through it hopefully getting farther each time, with each new discovery on the level it offers excitement yet displeasure as you realize the game gets harder as do the mechanics.
Volgarr the Viking is in my humble opinion the best game Adult Swim Games has published to date and Crazy Viking Studios has done a phenomenal job with it. The game practically plays itself in your hands after your muscle memory has set in and the precision needed for some of the mechanics is something I haven’t seen in a game since Super Meat Boy. Volgarr the Viking releases on September 13th for $11 and is available on PC and steam, as well as offering a DRM-free copy of the game and a steam key from the Humble store on release from its main site.