Hardcore gaming during the ’90s harbored heavy and hardened difficulty for the few platform games that were released. The early running of Castlevania as well as Ghostn’Goblins sent a lot of controllers flying towards the wall, because although the developers locked down the look and feel of these titles, the unforgiving nature in the game’s difficulty sent players into rampageous frustration.
Fast forward to today’s generation and we still have these type of brain and game busters. Genre favorite Dark Souls may have a bit of competition, however, with Volgarr the Viking. With an aesthetic and gameplay resembling Golden Axe and Megaman respectively, Adult Swim Games and Crazy Viking Studios’ platformer is a title in which players can take on the role of a badass viking. Volgarr was chosen by Odin to fight against a nasty dwarf by the name of Fafnir, who has already run amok over Midgard by bringing nothing but peril and panic.
Aside from that small little side story written in the game’s manual, however, the players main focus is to get Volgarr through all seven levels without dying—er, too much. Volgarr is the butt of all deaths in this extremely relentless game. Much like Sir Arthur, Volgarr is strongest when he traverses through these worlds and finds chests containing his shield, helmet and flaming sword, but one hit from even the easiest enemy and that helmet comes off. A second hit and you lose your shield. The third hit dramatically subdues Volgarr’s body in an explosive dismemberment of every part of his body.
To avoid witnessing the viking hero endure a painful death, players will need to utilize all of his neat and nifty skills, some of which take the form of double jumping, rolling, striking and throwing a spear. A few elements from other similar titles of this genre were taken to enhance Volgarr’s attack, most notably the charge of power in his spear if players hold the up button long enough before throwing it—an obvious little homage to Mega Man. What’s really cool about the spheres is that they can be used to hoist Volgarr towards taller platforms after being thrown into a walled area. His rolling ability can open the opportunity to sidestep enemies and strike them from behind while Volgarr’s double jump will also allow for a swift sword strike against an enemy should they dare to attack after their leap.
While all of these attributes certainly make for a great maneuvering, players will find that the ultimate blueprint for besting the game is by trial and error. Expect to play through a certain level over and over again before moving on to the next. Whether it be lizardmen, mutant fish or undead warriors, all of Volgarr’s enemies vary by color, which indicate their difficulty and how hard they’ll push back. Certain platform puzzles take more than a quick glance to figure your way through, another obstacle that players will have to muster up a strategy for. After more repeated runs, a sense of direction and survival is gained, so the learning curve isn’t too deep to the point where it’s unplayable.
Boss fights also act as a test of patience. Even within the form of giant cobras, sea monsters and skeleton magicians, the usual standard applies when facing them. Learning each and every move is a huge key, but bear in mind the unforgiving nature of Volgarr the Viking; losing a boss battle puts you back all the way at the start of the level. Just imagine being nearly three strikes away from victory and your hit box is exploited.
To make the difficulty even more daunting, Volgarr the Viking has no save feature whatsoever. Powering down the game means you’ll lose all that progress you’ve accumulated, even before you have reached the final boss. Crazy Viking Studios might have thought that this would have been the icing on the cake, but it does ruin a bit of the experience. The game is already freakishly unfeasible, so it would have made better sense to give the player some satisfaction in, for example, reaching the third level of the game and taking a rest before moving on. Vikings-to-be are welcome to leave the game running in the background, but even this doesn’t make sense.
Crazy Viking Studios nails the concept of implementing elements that immediately takes us back to the frustrating days of SEGA and SNES games that forced players to write angry letters to the developers asking for easier versions. Compounded with astounding 2D visuals and art, the tight controls and trial-and-error gameplay, Volgarr is a appropriate addition to characters that embody the meaning of perseverance. Despite the lack of leniency, this game is definitely worth losing your hair over. It’ll kick you in the ass several times, but that’s honestly the best part about it.