The bygone era of the incredibly difficult platformers, with their inexact control schemes and off-screen spawning, seems to be making a comeback. With lessons learned from past mistakes, games like Spelunky and Super Meat Boy are making it a joy to die over and over again. Adult Swim Games tries to add to the growing collection of difficult, yet fun, platformers with Volgarr the Viking. Regrettably, someone forgot about the past.
Volgarr the Viking opens strong with a great 16-bit era title screen with music that brings memories of Conan the Barbarian, of all things, to my mind. A quick tutorial of how to use the spear not only as a weapon, but as a platform to reach higher places that your double jump cannot is placed at the start. Since the title screen is also the start of the game, no loading is pretty nice. If you want to skip the tutorial and jump right into the fray, going left at the title screen will do just that.
The hand-drawn pixel art does a great job at making Volgarr the Viking have that old school look while playing. Bold color palettes really stand out and makes things easily discernible when moving around. I love the skin-melting-away-until-you-briefly-see-the-bones death animations of Volgarr, which you will see a lot in your time spent in the game.
What Crazy Viking Studios forgot when creating this ode to brutal platform games of yesteryear was precision control over the character. One of the reasons why some of the old school platformers were extremely difficult was the horrendous control you were given of the character. Being able to have complete, almost instant control either on the ground or in the air is crucial to this style of game, which you don’t see here.
Once you jump in Volgarr the Viking, you’re committed. The only other option you have is to use double jump to jump backwards but by then it’s too late. Having no air control over Volgarr feels like a big restriction that hampers the sense of control so desperately needed for platformers. Instead, it feels like an endless runner game without the screen scrolling automatically. Dying a lot to learn the patterns of the level, as well as the limitations on control can get irritating real quick. Since it is also one-hit kills, the margin for error becomes that much smaller.
There are power-ups that can be collected from treasure chests that add armor pieces to Volgarr. A wooden shield, an iron shield, a horned helmet and a fire sword that increases your melee attack. When fully loaded with all the power-ups, Volgarr can take more hits. Once hit, a piece of armor will fall off leaving Volgarr that much more vulnerable. What I found odd was how the fire sword and helmet were tied together. Getting hit will make both items disappear.
Animation lag is sadly present in Volgarr the Viking. Not so much in the melee attacks but you can really see it using the spear, landing after a jump with or without the downward attack and the dodge roll. The lag is just enough to throw off your timing when trying to jump up a ledge to kill a monster.
The checkpoints are not too bad since the levels are broken up into sections, though losing all those power-ups as well as redoing a tough section over and over again can put a hamper on any fun you had up to that point due to imprecise controls. If you decide to try again later after beating a level boss, you can forget about it. With no saved progression, you’ll have to start from the very beginning of the level again. If you read the manual that is on the Steam store page for Volgarr the Viking, however, you’ll see that you can in fact skip levels that you completed by simply going left at the blue crystals. Having this buried in a manual that you have to download and read outside the game is counter-intuitive.
Crazy Viking Studios describes Volgarr the Viking as a “return to the Golden Age of arcades” and possessing “all the hallmarks of the true classics”. Nothing wrong with bringing the classics back. Bringing all the bad with the good from those classic games, however, is an example of not learning from past mistakes.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PC