Few games are capable of both frustrating, and engaging me in the same breath. Volgarr the Viking is one of those games. Developed by Crazy Viking Studios (appropriate), this side-scrolling action title brings back the edge-of-your-seat intensity that I remember from games like Ghosts and Goblins, where one hit could end an otherwise successful run. Of course, just making a game difficult is not enough; there also has to be intricate level design and fine-tuned mechanics. Something that Volgarr definitely nails.
Right off the bat there really is no narrative to speak of. A booming voice bellows out “Rise Warrior”, and I was off on my adventure. No title screen, or CGI intro, just classic left-to-right game play. Volgarr carries a sword that can be used to attack foes, he can jump as well as combining these two mechanics for a decent move set, but it never goes beyond that core concept. Instead Volgarr is all about learning these systems, and mastering them. There is a reason the options allow for speed run tweaks.
There are no upgrades to speak of, but instead armor can be obtained from chests. This gives Volgarr extra hits that he can take from enemies. Dying results in spawning back to the most recent checkpoint, which is usually a decent trek back. I died over 30 times making it to the first checkpoint in the game, but I didn’t care. Volgarr nails that “I can do better” mentality with its clever design. No matter what foe managed to end my run, I always wanted to do it again, knowing I could make it farther.
This type of addiction is not achieved simply by making things challenging. Designing levels and mechanics in a way that deliberately teaches the player how to navigate them is a science. For example, Volgarr jumps in such a way that certain platforms take minute timing and tweaks of the analog stick to nail. Learning how that works and executing it is a satisfying feeling. Still, after having a handle on it, I would find myself making a mistake when I started to rush through levels. Again, I knew the failure was my fault. This is a fine balance that Volgarr nails, and one that makes tough games like it more appealing.
This is also its downfall though. Volgarr is exactly the same throughout. There are no bells or whistles here, just seven stages of brutal sidescrolling. Treasure can be picked up, but it is merely for increasing score. There is no level-up mechanic; no secrets to unlock (outside of that special stage) and the reasons to come back are completely based on how good I wanted to get at the levels. This is the definition of old school design, and I loved it.
The visuals are also from another time period. The sprite-based look feels right at home with the design. Watching lizard men spray into pixelated giblets was entertaining even after the 1,000th time doing it. Levels all feel unique, and even though it may look antiquated, I loved the subtle animations and nods to similar titles. Audio is fantastic. I loved the pure power delivered by the sound effects. Every attack felt impactful, and the music was epic in a cheesy sort of way. It all fit so perfectly with the theme of the game.
Volgarr the Viking is a brutal throwback to classic game design. Those wanting a challenge and who don’t mind repetition should not miss this. The cheap price and superb design really make it worthwhile. The cheesy presentation is fantastic, and I simply could not stop playing the same sections over and over trying to get better. That is a sign of great design, and what separates the impostors from the real classics.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
- Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 Mghz Vengeance
- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670