Völgarr the Viking took me right back to the good old days of the 16-bit era where every other game seemed to be a side-scrolling platformer that was hard as nails. Where every level you completed was such an accomplishment and finishing the game felt like you had conquered the world. It was actually strange when playing to think that this isn’t just a game that had simply passed me by all those years ago. It is actually a game originally made in 2013, so it’s all credit to the developer, Crazy Viking Studios, for creating something that is so reminiscent of that era, in both feel and difficulty.
It starts just like games of old too, there is no backstory in the slightest as it just plunges our hero Völgarr (he’s a Viking if you haven’t worked it out) right into the action with no real title screen, options or, well, pretty much anything to be found. For me personally, I didn’t require there to be a story for a game like this. I don’t really care why I am killing anything and everything that moves in front of me, the only thing I care about is remaining alive and powering on. For some, this may be a slight problem but I honestly don’t think that it would make any sort of difference if there was a proper story here.
There also isn’t much of a tutorial either, except for when you really are spending way too much time doing practically nothing and the game knows you are stuck. But to tell the truth, the controls are that simple, there doesn’t need to be a tutorial because you can quickly and easily work out how the game plays by yourself in little to no time at all.
If I had to describe how Völgarr the Viking plays, it would be a mixture of the early Castlevania games, Rastan and Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. You can walk (note I said walk, not run), double jump, attack with your sword, throw spears and roll. That’s it. So this is less about learning new abilities and using different items, but more about taking your limited move set, grasping the fundamentals and mastering it as you make your way through the game.
You don’t have any health bar or anything of that ilk, instead, you start with a sword and shield. If you take a hit then you lose the shield, take another hit and you’re dead, simple. But you are able to find items in treasure chests that act as extra health, so again, if you have the sword and shield and pick up a health item then you will be upgraded to a metal shield, grab another and you will obtain a helmet, and so on.
The enemy variety is pretty impressive too, you will come across different types of enemies constantly throughout your adventure. They of course get harder and more unpredictable as the game goes on but even during the first level, the lizard men (probably not their real name) will jump over voids to attack you when you are jumping over them so you need to have quick reactions and attack first, otherwise one of your precious hits have been taken.
Völgarr the Viking seemingly only has six levels with boss fights at the end of each one, but the game also features hidden levels. Whilst I won’t spoil how to unlock them, I will say that they are for only the truly dedicated and skilled players. So while most players will only see the six levels, it could still take you a while getting through them as they can get excruciatingly difficult at times and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. You will die a lot and there is only a midway checkpoint so you will, therefore, have to play some of the same parts to levels over and over. It is for this reason that I think Völgarr the Viking is strictly for veterans of action-platform games because newcomers will almost certainly simply give up very, very quickly.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Völgarr the Viking and I think a lot of that came down to the nostalgic feeling it gave me whilst playing. Certain areas in the game were a bit bland and uninspired, but the gameplay is smooth and responsive, load times are non-existent so anytime you die you get straight back into the action, only to probably die again. But I think that you simply have to ask yourself if you are ready for the challenge at hand because at times it’s very unforgiving. If you stick with it, you will eventually have tons of fun.