Reader Review: Volgarr the Viking (PC)

VOLGARR_BOXIf you love old-school arcade action 2-D platformers such as Rastan, you’ll want to check out this article by my friend Leroy. He reviewed a downloadable PC game on Steam called Völgarr the Viking from Adult Swim Games. It’s a tribute to all 2-D action platformers starring barbarians. Click to read more…if you’re up to the challenge! –Cary

Adult Swim Games is quickly becoming my favorite PC game publisher. The offshoot of the late-night cable network has been dabbling in video games for a few years through their website (via Flash apps) and through mobile marketplaces, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that they decided to dip their toes into the traditional game marketplace via the Steam digital distribution platform. We’ll be taking a look at their fourth release on Steam, Völgarr the Viking from Crazy Viking Studios.

Völgarr the Viking (which already has me happy by using the infamous “metal umlaut” in its title) is an homage late 80′s/early 90′s arcade games like Ghouls and Ghosts or Rastan. It’s an action platforming game with an emphasis on crushing (but fair) difficulty. Your character has a sword for basic attacks and an unlimited supply of throwing spears for ranged attacks. The throwing spears stick to walls that you can climb on, which is a primary mechanic for getting through levels. You also have a double jump for added mobility, which is especially useful since you are committed to your jumps, you can’t change or fine tune a jump once you’ve made it (besides cancelling the first one into the second).

As noted, the game is very difficult. But it’s a game about learning, as very few things are random in this game. When you die, you’ll come back with knowledge. You’ll figure out that attacking low will keep you out of range of the lizardmen’s clubs. You’ll discover that the deadly fishmen are harmless as long as you toss a spear their way. Most obstacles in the game (whether they be enemies or environments) have simple means of surpassing them, it’s just a matter of you finding out how to do so and maintaining your composure until you hit the next checkpoint. And that’s what makes this game so great. It’s a challenging game, but completely fair. When you fail, you’ll most likely understand why. The pacing of the game is slower and more methodical than other retro send-ups. You want to take your time and carefully trod through the challenges, think about them a little bit.

There are six stages in the game, with a brilliant twist. Crazy Viking Studios wanted to make a hardcore arcade game, where you started from the beginning and played to the end in one sitting. But it’s hard to sell that to modern consumers, so in Völgarr the Viking, you have unlimited lives and if you quit the game, you can come back later and warp through any levels you’ve previously completed either to continue where you left off or to practice. However, if you do well in the game, you will start to find “souls” in the games numerous treasure chests. If you finish a level with any of these souls, a new path opens up to an alternate, oftentimes more difficult version of the next level. And HERE is where you have limited lives. The souls you collected are now your limited stock of lives. If depleted, you are dropped back into the normal version of the level. And you will need to complete the game in one sitting through this alternate path to see the game’s darkest secrets.

The graphics are expertly crafted to mimic the style of arcade games of the era. The pixel work has a certain roughness to it, which instantly places it alongside many of the games it homages. I’m not sure that is fully intentional, but given that most of the retro-style indie games I’ve played recently have extremely polished (and sometimes over-polished) pixel graphics, it’s hard not to take notice at Völgarr’s graphics and appreciate them. The soundtrack is actually fully orchestrated, which is an odd choice given how finely crafted the visuals and mechanics are tuned to a specific era. While the soundtrack is excellent, it’s hard not to want an FM synth soundtrack to give you the feeling of a full package.

Völgarr the Viking gets my highest recommendation as a seasoned retro gamer. I know there is no shortage of indie games that have retro features, but very few of them actually rise up and deliver something as lovingly crafted and authentic as Völgarr the Viking. If you are up the challenge, you should immediately download this game.

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Kid Factor:

Völgarr the Viking contains a mild amount of carton violence, although most of it is limited to enemies exploding into cartoon blood, there is one boss that is defeated via decapitation. There are also a couple of female stone statues in the background graphics with bare breasts. –Leroy Capasso

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