Völgarr the Viking

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Crazy Viking Studios for PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita, Wii U, and 3DS, originally released in 2013.
Völgarr the Viking tells the tale of a Viking who is brought back to life by Odin to defeat the evil that has spread across Midgard. It seems that a dwarf named Fáfnir was so greedy that he eventually transformed into a dragon. No longer satisfied with his hoard of treasure, he began wreaking havoc across the land and built a magically protected tower that even the gods could not enter. Odin sees the plight of Midgard and decides to resurrect Völgarr, a great warrior who died after defeating hundreds of enemies laying siege to his homeland. Völgarr must defeat Fáfnir and his minions, and restore peace to Midgard.

It is fitting that Völgarr’s tale begins with his resurrection, given how generously death is rendered upon him. The game is inspired by classic arcade titles like Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Rastan, where a well-earned death encouraged the player to drop in an additional quarter to continue. The game’s opening area even duplicates the layout of Rastan – including club swinging enemies, flying enemies (bees instead of bats), and a breakable block leading to a lower area – and adds an additional nod with a familiar-looking corpse. Like the games that came before it, Völgarr the Viking offers simple controls, tight design that puts these mechanics to the test, and nearly insurmountable odds that require the player to use every tool available to him in order to survive.

Völgarr has two main weapons at his disposal, a sword and an infinite supply of wooden spears. Basic enemies can be destroyed with a single sword strike – bursting into a spray of blood and bones – while tougher enemies may take two or three hits, and a handful of larger enemies take five or more hits to destroy. Völgarr is able to use his sword while standing, walking, jumping, and ducking, and he can also leap into the air and aim his sword downward to strike foes below him and break certain objects.

Völgarr’s spear is somewhat more limited but considerably more versatile. Tossed spears allow you to strike enemies from a distance, which is quite useful considering that you’re generally never more than a couple of hits away from death. However, throwing spears is slow work, and it’s possible to become swarmed by respawning enemies if you rely on the weapon too much. Spears cannot be thrown while walking, nor can they be thrown while ducking, preventing you from using them against enemies that are lower to the ground, such as giant spiders. You can toss spears more quickly while jumping, and you are often tasked with lining up long-distance spear tosses to take out dangerous enemies from afar.

In addition to your basic weaponry, you have a shield. When you begin the game – and each time you are resurrected – you are carrying a wooden shield. The shield can only absorb two hits of damage before it is destroyed, but it is otherwise the only thing preventing you from instant death at the hands of your enemies. The shield blocks passively, meaning that you can block attacks by simply standing still and allowing the enemy attack to make contact with the shield. This works while standing, jumping, and ducking, and even while climbing ropes, where your shield is strapped to your back.

Enemies can also cause harm by simply making contact with you, and this type of damage cannot be blocked (with a few exceptions, like darting birds). This makes fast-moving enemies and bosses all the more dangerous, particularly given your slow movement speed. Fortunately, you have a dodge roll that allows you to pass safely through enemies, rising up to face them from behind and deliver a deadly blow. This move works in the opposite way as the shield insofar as you can pass through the bodies of enemies, but it will not protect you from an attack. You can also swing your sword and immediately begin walking backwards, which keeps you facing the enemy and lets you use your shield to absorb any retaliatory strikes.

As useful as the shield is, you’ll want to upgrade it as soon as possible. Spread liberally throughout the levels are treasure chests containing upgrades. The item contained in each chest is dependent upon your current armaments. If you have no shield, you will discover a wooden shield when you open a chest. If you are carrying a wooden shield, you will discover a metal shield instead, which can absorb an infinite number of hits. Carrying a metal shield also gives you access to an incredibly powerful weapon, namely the flaming spear.

The flaming spear works by charging the regular spear for a few seconds before hurling it. This incredibly powerful weapon does triple the damage of your standard attack and can penetrate up to four regular enemies. This power is balanced by a longer charge time, which makes the weapon tougher to use, and it is not possible to charge a spear in midair. Taking damage while carrying a metal shield will cause the shield to fall away and you will lose your flaming spear attack, and an additional hit will kill you. This structure is similar to the armor system in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, but it has a few additional twists.

If you are carrying a metal shield and open another chest, you will be awarded a metal helmet, which allows you to sustain an additional hit of damage while also increasing your attack speed. Opening a chest while wearing a metal helmet will give you the flame sword, a weapon that is twice as powerful as your regular sword and has a slightly greater reach. Carrying the flaming sword does not grant you any additional defense, however, so if you get hit, you will lose both the flaming sword and your helmet.

Retaining your armor and slowly building toward a fully powered Viking is the key to success. It’s also the key to unlocking some secrets, as adept players can continue opening chests after they have powered up, granting more valuable items, and eventually producing a blue wisp. These wisps can be used between levels to gain access to considerably more challenging bonus levels, and each wisp is worth one resurrection, offering limited opportunities for victory. While these areas are optional, finding them all puts players on the path toward getting the game’s best ending. Of course, even making it to the regular ending is no easy task.

Völgarr’s movements are incredibly limited, but the gameplay is built around these limitations. Players have a 1x jump and are unable to alter their direction in midair. Just as King Arthur and Simon Belmont before him, it is possible to face a different direction in midair and perform an attack, but your heading is otherwise locked. This limitation is offset somewhat by the fact that you can perform a double jump, altering your direction for the second jump, but you once again have no control once your vector is set. Double jumping also unleashes a spinning sword attack, allowing you to kill nearby enemies, and you can add greatly to this range with the flaming sword pickup. You can perform a double jump from a fall as well, allowing you to walk off the edge of a platform and initiate a midair jump, and this move is required in some of the later levels.

The double jump doesn’t make the game any easier, as there are challenges even in the first level where you are required to make precision leaps that can only be reached with the double jumps, and challenges where you must jump away from a platform, and then double jump back toward it. There are also complex sequences later on where you must jump away from a rope, toss a spear, and then double jump back to the rope.

Jumping and climbing aren’t your only forms of environmental navigation; you can also use your spears. Tossing a spear at any vertical surface causes it to stick, and you can then use that spear as a platform to reach higher areas. You can also toss multiple spears (up to five in the environment at a time) to build makeshift ladders, and you can even toss spears at shielded enemies and use those spears to reach higher areas, or even just go for a ride. The first boss emphasizes this fact by requiring you to toss multiple spears into its shield and use them to climb up and hit him in the head.

There are many subtleties to spear tossing. For instance, tossing a spear while standing on the ground will cause Völgarr to step forward slightly. However, this effect is nullified when standing on a narrow platform or near a ledge, preventing him from inadvertently stepping off the edge. Standing too close to a wall when tossing a spear will cause it to break, and you can also break spears by tossing another into the same area or using a downward sword strike.

Spears are not only used for climbing, but also absorb enemy projectiles, allowing you to place one above you and use it as shelter. It is possible to toss a spear into a wall and then perform a well-timed double jump and land on it without breaking stride, and you must often toss spears through gaps to set up platforms at a distance. In addition, regular spears disappear near the edge of the screen, while a charged flame spear can hit enemies offscreen, allowing you to take advantage of your knowledge of enemy placement on repeated playthroughs. By default, spears are used by pressing UP and ATTACK, just like the 2-button games of old, although they can be assigned to their own button to allow for more technical gameplay.

Enemies come in many varieties, with each world offering its own enemy types. Basic enemies often spawn indefinitely, requiring that you continue to push forward lest you be overwhelmed. Many of the basic enemies come in several color varieties, which indicate their strength and/or abilities. For instance, the green lizard men in the first world can only sustain one hit of damage, while the blue can take two, and the red three. When it comes to the fish men in the second world, green ones are stationary, while blue ones can jump, and red ones can slide quickly along the ground.

With a variety of foes mixed together, you must pay close attention to their abilities and defenses if you hope to survive in a crowd, and enemies are often placed together to emphasize this. For instance, flying enemies are often mixed in with ground-based foes, which forces you to consider a wider area when attacking and defending. Tossing a spear at a green fish man will kill it, but the blue ones will jump up into the air, requiring a well-timed strike when they land, and the red ones will slide under you, requiring a jump and downward sword strike. Undead enemies should be attacked in their upper bodies to prevent their torsos from flying at you, but these are mixed in with shielded skeletons that can block high attacks but are weak to low.

Later levels mix in additional dangers such as insta-death pits, sloped surfaces intermixed with enemies, and precision platforming and rope jumping sequences. Other environments affect the action in different ways, including underwater areas that slow you down and let you jump higher (and eventually run out of air), and areas where you must ride air currents to reach new areas while avoiding those that would push you into a wall of spikes.

Völgarr the Viking is designed to be a difficult game, and much of that difficulty centers around mastering the limited mechanics to overcome great odds. The difficulty is further compounded by the fact that there are only two checkpoints per world. While you do get infinite lives, dying in the first half of the level will send you back to the beginning, and dying in the second half of the level will send you back to the midpoint (and you will lose some of your money in the process). This is also true if you die while fighting the end level boss, which means that you won’t get much of an opportunity to learn its pattern before you’re booted back to the midpoint.

This structure leads to a lot of repeated gameplay, but also requires that you get better at the game in order to continue. Repeating the levels also helps you to remember the placement of enemies and traps so that you will have a better run on your next time through the level, and hopefully retain your armor and flaming sword through to the end. Memorization is not only rewarded, but expected. Once again, this structure mimics the arcade quarter munchers and NES-era games where limited content was spread out through a high difficulty that could only be overcome by repeated play.

Each time you load up the game, you will start at the first level. There is a slightly hidden warp that allows you to move forward to levels you have reached previously, but the only way to get to the real final world and its boss is to start the game and play it straight through. Warping ahead essentially lets you practice later levels so that you can get good at them and attempt a full run through. You can still beat the game by warping, but you will get the worst of the three possible endings.

Exploration is rewarded, with alternate routes within the levels offering additional challenges, generally with a chest as a reward. The player is able to zoom the camera out to examine the area for potential hidden goodies and alternate paths, rather than blindly jumping into any opening. Also, each level contains a hidden breakable wall, behind which is Mjölnir (the hammer of Thor), which grants you its power when picked up. This power allows you to take one hit of damage without losing any of your upgrades, and getting hit causes a ring of projectiles to extend outwards, often killing nearby enemies.

The developers released an electronic instruction manual to accompany the game, done in the style of a Sega Genesis manual, complete with descriptions of your moves, details on each of the powerups, and hints at various secrets. The manual outlines and screenshots of each of the levels –including a “World 7: ??????” description – to entice players to press forward in their adventures. In addition to screenshots, some of the pages feature humorous childlike illustrations of Völgarr fighting various enemies, just like the Nintendo-produced manuals of old.

Völgarr the Viking was developed by Crazy Viking Studios, a studio founded in 2012 by Kris Durrschmidt and Taron Millet, and this was the studio’s first commercial release. Music and sound effects for the game were provided by Kochun Hu of Superhero Soundworks.

Kris and Taron previously worked together at Griptonite Games on several titles, including The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night, Assassin's Creed: Discovery, and the 3DS version of Shinobi. Kochun previously provided music for a number of titles, including the Deadly Dozen series and Battlezone: Red Odyssey, and also provided sound design for numerous Marvel Superhero Squad titles.

The game was funded via Kickstarter and published by Adult Swim Games, who also published Fist Puncher, Super House of Dead Ninjas, Super Comboman, Oblitus, and Westerado: Double Barreled.