Volgarr The Viking
developed by Crazy Viking Studios
The year was 1987. I was 11 years old and I remember walking into a local convenience store and seeing a brand new arcade cabinet baring the image of a Conan-like figure on it’s side and the title “Rastan Saga”. I had a couple of quarters on me so I decided to give the game a try. By this time I knew that I was a pretty decent gamer because friends would ask me to finish certain sections of games for them whenever we were at the arcade or when we were playing some of the arcade games in the neighborhood shops. As I stepped up to cabinet and peered over it’s title screen and scoreboard, I remember thinking that this game looked amazing. It was badass, for lack of a better word. I had to play it. I reached into my pocket and proceeded to insert my quarter. As my quarter dropped to the bottom of the slot, I could swear that I heard the faint sound of laughter coming from somewhere inside the machine.
Fast-forward to 2013 and I once again face the formless, shapeless jester, as he laughs at me when I start up Volgarr The Viking for the very first time. Maybe Loki is real, and maybe he is the god that oversees the difficulty level of all action arcade games. I do not know for certain. What I do know is that Volgarr The Viking will gladly take your money, beat you over the head with a spiked club, feed you to Jörmungandr, shit you out, grab you by the short and curlies, throw you off a cliff, and then proceed to curb-stomp your ass wherever it has landed. Yes, it’s that awesome!
Saying Volgarr is a little hard would be like saying Antarctica is a little cold. This is a game that never holds your hand, nor does it apologize for being the badass that it is. It’s a game made for persistent gamers, gamers who love a good challenge, face death with a smile, swear like a trucker, burp and fart loudly, drink lots of beer, barf then laugh, and also wear women’s underwear… er, maybe not that last one. Still, it’s the type of game that could make a woman grow a penis and make musclebound men go flaccid. This isn’t a game for quitters or crybabies, this is a game for masochists who derive pleasure from challenging gameplay. You will try, and you will die, over, and over, and over.
Volgarr is as difficult as some of the great classic arcade games that swallowed millions of quarters during the mid-80’s to mid-90’s, and it looks as good as the best of them! It’s every bit as challenging as the old Rastan Saga arcade game and perhaps more-so. And, if you were around at the time, it’s easy to see where Volgarr gets it’s inspiration from. Even the very first level and the initial enemies you face pay homage to Rastan Saga. Volgarr made me feel like that 11 year old boy, who one time, spent 5 dollars worth of quarters just so I could beat the damn game and show off the ending and highscore to my friends.
It’s an action arcade game! Is this even necessary? Alright, one day a downed viking is resurrected by Odin. “Rise Warrior!” And off Volgarr goes, on a quest to… something or other. Really, you don’t need a great story when you’ve got great gameplay.
Volgarr does a lot of things that other games already do, only it does them extremely well. Our viking hero can move left or right, crouch, jump, double jump, and roll. He swings a mighty sword that spills blood and guts on impact. He can chuck spears to damage distant enemies, or he can use those spears as a means to reach higher ground by throwing them into walls and using them as a platform for which to stand or jump on. Volgarr also has a shield that he can use to block enemy attacks and incoming projectiles.
On your journey you’ll come across chests which contain useful upgrades and power-ups. The first of these upgrades is a new shield. Your initial shield can only take so much damage before breaking. When you find the shield upgrade it will be able to take much more damage and you’ll be granted the ability to charge your spear before throwing it. This power throw allows you to take out multiple weak enemies while pushing away stronger ones. You’ll also find a viking helmet which acts as extra armor, allowing you to take an additional hit of damage. Last of the great upgrades is the flame sword. With it you’ll be able to carve your way through enemies in almost half the amount of time.
You’ll obtain these power-ups in the same order every time: shield, helmet, fire sword. Each time you get hit by an enemy you lose one of your power-ups and if you’re hit once you’ve lost your shield then it’s game over and back to the last checkpoint. There’s no vitality bar or hitpoints, just you, the enemies, and the environment. Speaking of which, the environments in Volgarr, are just as dangerous as any of it’s enemies. You will need to contend with spike pits, wall spikes, spear traps, gaping chasms, water, and fire hazards. Then, just when you thought you’ve defeated enough enemies and passed through enough environmental hazards, you come across a boss battle.
Avoiding the enemy is just as important as attacking the enemy. Even though Volgarr is a BAMF, he isn’t invincible. Luckily, you have a few tricks that can get you out of a tight situation. Crouching allows you to avoid some enemy attacks completely, as long as you keep the enemy at arms length while using your own sword to attack. Rolling is great for getting away from enemies and is also necessary for getting through some of the tighter areas on a level. Double jumping allows Volgarr to reach higher platforms, but during a double jump he also does a spinning sword attack in the air that is great for hitting airborne enemies. While landing from a jump, Volgarr can also point his sword downward, destroying weaker enemies and breakable objects beneath his feet.
I highly recommend playing Volgarr with a gamepad or 360 controller. The keyboard works fine, but this is a game that was meant to be played with a joystick of some sort, just as god had intended all arcade style games to be played. The controls are very tight and responsive. The tricky part is getting used to how Volgarr jumps. Unlike other recent platformers, Volgarr uses the classic control scheme where you can’t move in mid-air. Double jumping does allow you to change the direction Volgarr is moving, but once you’ve hit the jump button that’s it, you continue in the same direction. Obviously, it becomes very important to gauge your jumps carefully, but you’ll probably get lots of practice anyway considering you’re going to be dying a lot.
You can play Volgarr the entire way through in one sitting, though I doubt you’ll be doing that for quite some time. There are checkpoints scattered far and wide within each level, so when you do die you don’t have to start all the way from the beginning. There are also a few secrets, which I’ll leave for you to discover or look-up at your own leisure, because I don’t want to spoil the experience for those who enjoy such a challenge. There’s even an option in the menu that allows you to turn on a game HUD (heads up display) showing the amount of time it’s taking you to play through the game. This is perfect for people who want to make an attempt at a speedrun (good luck though).
Graphics & Sound:
Volgarr looks great. Yes, it’s another 2D sprite-based, pixelated, indie game, but it looks fantastic. The artwork and animations are very good and they deliver a very classic arcade style feel and aesthetic. Volgarr’s character is highly detailed and he looks the hero part. There are a variety of enemies, some that look cooler than others, but the epic bosses look truly amazing. The backgrounds look great as well with each new level having a different style and atmosphere from the last. You won’t have much time to enjoy the scenery though, because you’ll be too busy performing viking-style-footloose-choreography in order to engage or avoid the oncoming enemies and the many traps and pitfalls you’ll encounter.
When talking about graphics, I’m almost certain that Crazy Viking Studios got their inspiration from the classic arcade games I played when I was younger. Obviously Rastan Saga would be one of the major influences, but it’s easy to see that games such as Black Tiger, Ghost’s n Goblins, Ghouls and Ghosts, were also of some influence.
The music and sound fx are very good as well. I cranked up the volume while playing and I recommend you do the same. The sound of Volgarr’s sword slicing through enemies and the clang of weapons against shield give that extra added “oomph” to the gameplay.
You might have gathered by now that Volgarr The Viking is a challenging game. It’s a fantastic arcade-style action game that doesn’t treat gamers like fools and idiots. It’s not the type of game that will appeal to everyone, but it is the type of game that makes the player feel like a badass. If you are persistent, tenacious, and patient, then you’ll love Volgarr precisely for it’s challenging gameplay. Even though some people will give up within the first 10 minutes of gameplay, others will come back for repeated playthrus, trying to beat their previous time and highscores. The replay value is based on how much you enjoy arcade games and this type of action game with it’s steep difficulty level.
Personally I love it. I’m glad to see that the spirit of the classic arcade game lives on in Volgarr the Viking. The best part now is that I don’t have to spend all of those quarters! I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys challenging gameplay and particularly those gamers who actually remember what this type of arcade-style gameplay was all about.