September 9, 2013 7:04 AM | Anthony Swinnich
If this were the early 90s, Crazy Viking Studios could have had a easily applied the Conan the Barbarian license to their upcoming Völgarr the Viking and had one of the best licensed games to grace a cart. Völgarr must stand on its own today, but after getting my face kicked in by the game at PAX Prime, it's clear that the titular character's muscular legs are more than up to the task.
The combat is heavily inspired by 80s arcade game Rastan. Players hold their sword upright and swing it in a horizontal slash to destroy enemies. They can also attack while ducking, and point the sword down while jumping to kill enemies below them, or open secret areas in the floor. Rounding out the sword-based offense is a somersault sword attack performed while jumping. You can also throw a spear, which can be charged to tear through multiple enemies, or used as when lodged into walls.
The jumping is of special note, as it's very much like the jump found in the SNES standout Super Ghouls'n Ghosts. While you have access to a double-jump, your arc is locked in once you leave the ground. If you jump toward spikes, you'll either need to use your second jump to avoid them, or take the damage. The platforming makes great use of the ability to change directions with your second vault, so expect to make a lot of tricky leaps.
Another way the game is like Capcom's classic is the power up chests. As Völgarr's accessory count grows (helmet, fire sword, etc), so does his power. If you can manage open enough chests without losing power ups by getting hit you'll receive a key. Beat the level with the key and you'll be whisked away to an alternate version of the next level. There is a branching path for each of the six main levels, as well as both a final and bonus stage, meaning there are 14 areas to smash through in all.
Crazy Viking seems to have locked down the psychology of combat in this style of game. For example, there's a line of skeletons in one of the stages that requires you to duck and attack to kill them. You have to kill a good seven or eight of them before a zombie shows up. You instinctively go for his legs, only to discover that doing so frees the upper body to fly toward and damage you. It's little touches like this that establish an authentic 16-bit feeling that extends past the graphics and two-button gameplay. There's a degree of trial-and-error to learning the levels, sure, but the real challenge is in executing once you've established a gameplan.
Völgarr the Viking releases on Windows this Friday, September 13 and can be preordered at the official site for $12, and may well be one of the most convincing throwback action titles conceived yet.