Valhalla’s Still A Ways Off
HIGH There’s some neat Golden Axe references throughout.
LOW The combat system is too shallow to remain entertaining.
WTF What were these underpants doing stowed away in a training dummy?
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that just slapping the word ‘Squad’ on the end of something makes it sound about a hundred times more exciting. For example, death is a pretty depressing subject at the best of times, but ‘Death Squad’? It suddenly sounds freaking amazing. Whether or not it actually is amazing is another story altogether, and Viking Squad is… well, kind of average overall.
Players select from one of four psychotic vikings before screaming across each stage to plunder and smash anything unfortunate enough to cross their path. It’s a cool (if simplistic) setup that produces an old-school sort of brawler in the style of Final Fight, Streets of Rage or, more recently, Dragon’s Crown. It has one major difference though — combat takes place in predetermined lanes. There’s no walking between the background and foreground here, it’s all about leaping between these lanes to avoid projectiles or using them to get into range so that the vikings can clobber some enemies.
There’s a leveling system based on the loot pilfered from each stage. Coins can be used to buy or upgrade health potions, whereas more valuable treasure such as goblets or crowns can purchase permanent upgrades to things such as health or strength. It can also buy new weapons or armor, each with their own unique stats.
There’s also one major relic to recover from each stage for special bonuses (typically underwhelming) or to open up secret routes, though a relic has to be physically carted from one end of the stage to the other. I found this mechanic to be a bit of a hassle since the relics can be destroyed by enemies, so having one taken out by a boss’ random attack was a less-than-thrilling climax to carting it around for fifteen minutes or so.
This all sounds fine on paper, but the problem with Viking Squad is that there’s little variety to the combat. Classic fighting games of yore generally had deep combat systems given their limitations at the time — simple things such as stunning enemies with a couple of jabs before being able to grab and toss them in Double Dragon, or the wealth of vicious-but-temporary weapons dropped by enemies in Konami’s Vendetta. Variety in encounters and nuanced combat systems are what generally keep 2D brawlers interesting, and it’s here that Viking Squad comes up short.
The combat is shallow overall, with little reason to perform more than a basic three-button combo for most of the game. Magic can occasionally be blasted out after collecting powerups, and there are some special rune attacks that can be powered up during the journey although they don’t really do enough to be noteworthy — things like firing an arrow at distant foes, or hammering the floor for a shockwave that bounces enemies into the air. With a decent combat system in place, such moves could have been used to set up some cool aerial combos, but in practice they seem like throwaways that can be easily ignored.
Basic enemies tend to come in two flavors, with one type rushing in for the kill while the other dances around the periphery of an encounter, chucking projectiles at players or doing quick stabs with a spear. It’s a standard setup that doesn’t change much throughout. Of course there are different types of foes, but they all feel alike in how they act and in the tactics necessary to deal with them.
Boss and miniboss encounters typically fare little better. It’s easy to jab them a few times, hop back and forth between one lane and the next while they take a swing, then jab them some more as they recover. There are exceptions, such as a massive Yeti that lurks in the background swinging at the player with its massive arms, but nothing that shakes it up much. Annoyingly, the two final bosses are simply variations on ones that came before.
As much as I wanted to like Viking Squad — and I genuinely did, given that I like the art style and I’m open to the idea of a loot-driven pillage-’em-up — it just doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from the crowd. There’s an online mode available for up to three-player co-op that might have made the experience a little more interesting, but despite attempting to hook up with others multiple times, I never found anyone else online and couldn’t test it out.
In the end, Viking Squad is one of those games with occasional highlights — pecking enemies to death with an ostrich does have its moments after all — and a slick exterior that’s undercut by not quite getting the basics right. In this case, a diverse and interesting combat system would have gone a long way towards making this voyage way more worthwhile to embark on.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Slick Entertainment Inc. It is currently available on PS4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 0 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes due to a lack of players online.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Everyone E10+ and contains fantasy violence, alcohol reference and comic mischief. It would take a pretty easily frightened kid to be be put off by anything here. Sure, there’s the odd demonic possession or two, and skeletons rising from the grave and the like, but it’s all done in a pretty child-friendly manner.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No problems at all, nearly everything in the game is visually conveyed.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls do not appear to be remappable, at least on PS4.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.
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