GAME NAME: Volgarr the Viking
DEVELOPER(S): Crazy Viking Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Crazy Viking Studios
GENRE(S): Action, Indie, Platformer
RELEASE DATE(S): September 13th, 2013
One thing can be said about modern games: they generally don’t hold a torch to the button-smashing difficulty of games that were found in the bygone 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Those games were cruel, brutal and could ruin any kid’s day. Although gaming today is an altogether slightly more forgiving matter, some of us nonetheless long for those insane challenges and have a perverted desire to test our frustration to the max. Or, at least the developers behind indie title Volgarr the Viking think we do.
Volgarr the Viking is a faithful and inspired tribute to the old greats such as Golden Axe, Contra and Mega Man (or Rock Man as he was known to us South African kids). Here, the old Norse god Odin instructs the titular viking Volgarr to go on a quest to defeat Fafnir, the evil dwarf who has nothing better to do than terrorize Midgard. Why Odin doesn’t sort it out himself is never explained, but Volgarr happily accepts the mission and begins his campaign against the forces of evil, all while ripping his muscles, chucking spears and otherwise being extremely manly.
The gameplay skillfully adopts several conventions that were the hallmarks of frantic action platformers on the NES: barrages of enemies relentlessly attack the player, making them rely on quick thinking and lightning-fast reflexes. It may seem, at first, that Volgarr is hopelessly outmatched, but thankfully he has several items that even the odds in his favor; a sword, an infinite supply of spears (which can be charged up similar to Mega Man’s buster or thrown against walls to construct makeshift stairs), a helmet and a shield. The latter items will provide extra hit points in the event the player gets damaged, which is a very frequent occurrence. In addition, Volgarr is an athlete chap who can double-jump at whim and roll out of harm’s way whenever enemies begin to overwhelm him.
Despite all the moves and gear available to our blonde hero, the game is fundamentally a trial-and-error affair. Expect to die, and die often, and come away a little wiser from your misfortunes. Levels are simply going to have to be played again and again if you have any desire whatsoever for mastering them. Although the levels are mostly action romps, the latter variety do require a bit of thinking to finish and the odd puzzle makes an appearance. Oh, and don’t count on checkpoints! Those are for wimps. If you fail, you need to start over again, from the beginning of the level, like a wet-tail recruit. This lack of leniency also extends to the game’s bosses; it doesn’t matter if you’re one hit away from finishing them off… die, and you *will* have to restart the level again from scratch. If that’s not enough, there’s no save feature either. Every time the game is closed, it’s akin to powering off your old console with no save or backup feature. You can almost picture the evil developers sitting somewhere laughing maniacally and mocking you for your lack of skills.
As I’ve made quite clear, this game is hardcore, and is easily one of the most unforgiving I’ve played in recent times, even more so than Super Meat Boy. While all this may seem somewhat off-putting, it’s actually a fun and challenging experience, exemplified by the colourful, hand-drawn pixel artwork, beautiful animations and spot-on sound effects. The enemies are colourful and varied, from lizard-men to gigantic spiders to zombies, and although you’ll hate them before too long, you’ll end up appreciating the work that went into them. Of special note is the soundtrack; in many cases a game’s music passes by without comment, but Volgarr‘s soundtrack is orchestral, giving the entire game the feel of an epic 80′s mythology flick along the lines of the original Clash of the Titans. Add in buckets of blood and dazzling effects (such as Volgarr being formed from raw flesh and bone, then exploding into a bloody skeleton when killed) and we have ourselves a charming little title with a lot of love.
I’ll be blunt here: Volgarr the Viking is a keyboard-smashing masochist experience of the highest degree. It’s tempting to brush it off as a sick and twisted experiment in sadism, but that wouldn’t be the least bit fair. The absurd difficulty has its charm, and one can’t help but admire the attention to detail. It will probably be unappreciated by most of today’s gamers, which is a real tragedy. Nonetheless, if you’re a retro and platform junkie who’s itching for a bit of a crazy challenge, and misses the old days of classic Castlevania and Ghosts ‘n Goblins, then this is definitely one to check out. You’ll love to hate it and you won’t quit until you’ve beaten it… eventually.