Volgarr the Viking – true arcade gameplay returns

Volgarr the Viking will kick your ass. That was the first lesson I learned as I embarrassed myself at PAX in front of the creators of this awesome game. Volgarr is a throwback to classic hardcore arcade gameplay and I love every frustrating minute of it. Crazy Viking Studios has done an amazing job of recreating the kind of quarter crunching experience of mastering a game that has been missing for so very long. Learn where all of the enemies come from, where the traps are, and where the hidden treasures can be found. Trial and error is a huge part of that learning, but it’s so rewarding when you finally have it down and can run through a level without losing a life. This is everything I want out of a retro platformer!

Cool story, bro

Volgarr fire landsVolgarr isn’t just a beefcake in a loincloth senselessly killing everything in his path; he also wears boots. Even so, there is as much of a story as any kind of arcade game needed in the mid-80s. You’ll have to look in the amazing Genesis-esque instruction manual included with the game on Steam to find out what it is. Volgarr has no time to indulge in your storytelling; he’s not some pathetic bard. To sum it up, Odin was having a bit of trouble with the dragon Fafnir. In order to deal with it, he decided to enlist the aid of Volgarr after seeing him fall in battle fearlessly after slaying hundreds of enemies and still facing overwhelming odds. Odin restores Volgarr’s life and tasks him with killing Fafnir’s five generals to break a magical barrier and to then face down Fafnir himself. Kill the dragon, save the world.

Rise from your grave!

You will die and be resurrected a lot. Bringing you back to life will be Odin’s full time job for a while. That’s really part of the fun, trust me. Once you’re up and moving, you’ll find that the controls are straightforward and easy to get your head around. You have a jump button and an attack button. Volgarr has a double jump (which doubles as a spin attack), a roll, and the ability to throw a spear if you hold up and then press attack in Castlevania fashion. It’s worth noting that both roll and the spear throw can also be mapped to keys or controller buttons if you so choose. The other thing to know is that there is a key / button that will let you zoom out from your current surroundings a little bit. It’s a good idea to do that from time to time just to see what’s coming up. Unless, of course, you’d rather find out by getting killed again.

Volgarr flame swordSpeaking of getting killed, Volgarr the Viking has no health meter. Instead, it plays Ghouls ‘n Ghosts style where you lose a piece of armor when you take a hit. When there’s no armor left to lose, you explode into a mist of blood and bone. Armor progression is pretty easy to get the hang of. You will start each new life with a wooden shield in hand: it can block two attacks and is then lost. The first chest you come across will upgrade it to the hammer shield. This will allow you to block an unlimited number of incoming attacks and also grants the ability to charge your spear for a more powerful attack. After that is the helmet which is cool looking and increases your attack speed. Finally, if you open a chest while having all of that equipped, you get a flaming sword that doubles your attack power.

The ultimate 16-bit experience

I said before that this is everything I want out of a retro platformer and I wasn’t exaggerating. The graphics are done in a 16-bit pixelated fashion that really emulates the golden age of arcade games. Each highly stylized world in the game is distinct from each previous area. The soundtrack is phenomenal and really brings out my inner desire to loot and pillage. If you hone your skill enough, you can even unlock the alternate versions of each area referred to as the Path of the Valkyrie. That’s where the real arcade experience begins. On the Path of the Valkyrie you have a limited number of continues to learn the stage and beat it before you get put back on the Path of the Crystal. For some actual gameplay, watch this video of me clearing world 1.

I haven’t actually been able to get any farther than area four after 12 hours of practice and failure, but I’m not giving up until I beat this thing. Which is the whole point: Volgarr rewards players for mastery. In lieu of the traditional top scores screen, Volgarr uses the Steam Leaderboards to allow you to show off your prowess with sword and shield to your friends or the whole world. In fact, look for Initiative on there and see if you can beat my score. I’m sure I’ll probably get pushed off in no time, but it’s fun to have competition.

Lead Volgarr to glory and Valhalla

This was one of my favorite games at PAX and you should see the reactions that Jon and I had while attempting to play through the first few times. (Jon’s epic surprise scream can be found here.) I highly recommend this for any lover of platformers and retro games. Volgarr the Viking is published by Adult Swim games and developed by Crazy Viking Studios. The release date is September 13th 2013 and it’s available for $9.99 for the first week of release and $11.99 after that on Steam.