Remember the good ol’ days of yore? The glorious 16-BIT era to be more precise. Action platformers were a dime a dozen and we all spent countless hours in pure determination to obtain the bragging rights of successfully reaching the end credits of each punishing title. I lost many nerve cells in absolute rage each time I perished, but that was part of the fun. It kept you trudging onward, seeking the elusive reward for persevering throughout such a mental and physical beating. Crazy Viking Studios remembers these days, and Volgarr the Viking is their love letter to them.
Just so there is no mistaking, this game feels like a long lost Genesis/Mega Drive game you randomly found while cleaning out your basement. It is almost jarring to be playing it and realize you have a wireless controller and didn’t have to blow into the game cartridge before popping it into the console. The 16-BIT graphics are spot on and they are beautiful. The enemies, the backgrounds, the fire and water effects…they all look wonderful. It is also clear the game took heavy inspiration from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. If you took out Volgarr and replaced him with Sir Arthur, nothing would look out of place. Even the stages have striking similarities.
Before I get ahead of myself, I need to touch on a negative right off the bat. I hate to do it, but I must. When you boot up the game, there is no main menu. Your character is immediately onscreen and Odin points to the right and tells you to “Go.” That’s the exposition, ladies and gentlemen. Almighty Odin tells you to head to the right, and by golly, that is what you’re going to do. Vanquishing any poor sap that gets in your way, of course. Once you defeat the final boss, you get a few paragraphs of text that explain the story and why you just laid waste to five lands and a castle. It’s not much of a story either. Just your typical evil dragon takes over the region. Said evil dragon appoints five generals to rule over the five lands while he lives it up in his big menacing castle. Odin tasks you to reclaim it all and there you have it. I don’t understand the rationale behind revealing this at the end. The point of a story is supposed to give you motivation for embarking on the journey. It’s like if I asked you to take a flight to Uganda, collect three purple flowers, build a unicycle, and dig five graves on the premise that you’ll know why once you’ve completed it all. Would you do it? It’s a rhetorical question, by the way.
Moving right along…there are six stages (well, for the most part…I’ll touch more on that later) with each having a unique boss. The levels are your standard fare of Mayan-type temple ruins, lava castle, and sunken city. Nothing real creative there, but each stage looks the part and comes with stage-specific enemies. Throughout the course of the game you will be fighting lizard men, zombies, skeletons, clams, spiders, frog warriors, humanoid birds in fancy armor, little dudes with goggles, etc. To me, that is another high point. There is a really nice array of enemies and it keeps you from feeling like you are fighting the same thing over and over. Some enemies leap at you, slide at you, fly at you, try to beat you with a weapon, hurl projectiles at you…it really is impressive the variety of enemies and the different ways each can kill you.
Speaking of being killed…it will happen, a lot. This game is not easy or for the faint of heart. It is ruthless, merciless, and doesn’t care that you think you are the lord of action platformers. It will make you feel like a child again and will laugh in your face as you weep. Each of the five lands has a checkpoint halfway through. If you die before the checkpoint, you go back to the beginning. If you make it to the end of the level just to die on the boss, you go back to the halfway point. It’s brutal but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As far as your abilities go…you hit X to slash with sword, A to jump (by hitting it twice you will double jump), hold up on the joystick to ready a spear and press X to throw it, and holding down on the joystick and pressing A will allow you to roll. There is no health in the traditional sense. You start out with a sword and wooden shield, but if you get hit…you lose the shield. If you get hit again…you’re dead. Fear not, however, for there are treasure chests strewn throughout each stage. What you will find in a chest depends on what you currently have. When you have just a sword, you will find a wooden shield. If you have the sword and wooden shield, you will get a metal shield. Once you obtain the metal shield you will be able to charge up your spears, allowing them to pummel through multiple enemies. You can then obtain a helmet and finally a flaming sword. Each new item that you find will allow you to take another hit but it will be destroyed until you find another one.
In these types of games, it is highly important that movement, jumps, and attacks are very smooth. I can say without a doubt that the character controls very well. The buttons are incredibly responsive and you will be able to perform the intended action without even a slight delay. Anytime you die, it will not be because of lag or unresponsive controls. When you do die, you are instantly respawned back at the checkpoint to try again. There were not any slowdowns; all of the animations and controls were incredibly smooth, and there were no load times. Crazy Viking Studios have truly set the bar when it comes to a smooth gameplay experience.
The music…holy cow the music. It is excellent. Sweeping orchestral arrangements, some choral goodness here and there, and an epic adventure overtone keeps you constantly pushing forward. Each of the lands has a unique track and they are all phenomenal. The bosses were somewhat of another negative for me. They honestly seem uninspired, especially considering the wonderful variety of regular enemies. Two of the bosses are just re-skinned and more powerful versions of an enemy found on their respective stages. There is nothing unique in how you defeat each boss and I can guarantee you’ve seen very similar bosses and the methods to defeat them numerous times before. The final castle stage throws every enemy type from the whole game at you, but thankfully there is no boss rush. That’s something I always dread in these games, so I was relieved it was absent here. The final castle is also the first time the game takes mercy on you, because each room is a new checkpoint. It makes the final stage much easier than those before it.
Now, there are six stages in the main game. Upon completing those stages and defeating the final boss, I was awarded Ending C. I was perplexed. On looking at the achievements, it appears there are two other endings you can achieve. Apparently there are some secret routes, and possibly a secret level, to obtain one ending, and to obtain the other you must complete the game without dying. No thanks. Don’t get me wrong…I really enjoyed this game, but it’s honestly a one-time-through kind of experience and you’ll probably be burnt out at that point. Re-playability is on the low side but it’s there if you want. Those two other endings will keep you plenty busy and there are also some achievements that you would have to go back through and work hard to unlock.
Crazy Viking Studios has created something special here. It will take you around 3-4 hours to complete and the price of $9.99 is not bad. It’s a very solid game that will challenge you but it’s not cheap or unfair. The soundtrack will make you feel like going into battle and the gameplay is smooth as silk. If you enjoyed the action platformers of old, but are too lazy to dust off the Genesis/Mega Drive, purchase Volgarr the Viking right now. You’ll love it.
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