By David Lins
In the old days, video games were tough. This isn’t because developers wanted you to hate them, or to feel challenged: it was because games were pretty expensive, and in order to ensure that parents would actually buy games for their kids, they needed to last a long time. What better way to do that than to crank the difficulty up to 11? Some of us loved those challenges, though—we absolutely lived for them and that overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when overcoming them.
Of course, some of those games were hard in cheap or unfair ways—Volgarr the Viking, however, is a well-designed masterpiece of nostalgia, warts and all. Yes, the game is ridiculously hard, but each level is tightly designed so that a cautious, skilled player will be able to get through unscathed.
You are Volgarr, a Viking that has been brought back to life to … um, kill stuff. The game isn’t really clear on that. “Rise, warrior,” says an ancient Norse god, and that’s what you do. You then travel the land murdering every living thing you come across. There’s no vengeance to be had, no love interest, or anything like that. It’s just you, a big dude with a big sword, and the world that wants to kill you.
The controls are designed so that every move you make requires precision and thought. Like Castlevania’s Simon Belmont, Volgarr has a bit of a delay with his attacks, and he cannot change direction in midair after jumping (although he can perform a double-jump). The clunky controls are intentional; they demand you sit down and master the timing of Volgarr’s moveset, while also learning how to react to enemies. Really, each encounter in this game can be seen as a puzzle to be solved—figuring out what actions you need to take in order to get through without taking damage is part of the fun. It’s a rewarding system to master, if you’ve got the patience.
And yes, you’ll need patience. See, nostalgia can be a bit misleading—you look back on the old days and think, “Man, if only games were still like that,” but then you remember why things like save points exist. Whenever you quit Volgarr the Viking, you need to start all over from the beginning. The game is relatively short, but each stage will require some time to beat on your first go. The repetition is eased once you complete the game, which unlocks the ability to skip levels, so you can practice each one whenever you like.
Every level in the game (sans the first one) has a harder version that can be unlocked by obtaining Warrior Souls in the previous level. To obtain those, you’ll need to hit six chests in a row without taking a hit—no small feat—and then you get one attempt on the hard-mode stage for each Soul you find. Beating these stages unlocks the extra endings and levels, a task that will require a tremendous amount of patience and skill. Nobody said being a Viking was easy.
That’s not to say the journey isn’t worthwhile. As long as you have the time, Volgarr the Viking is a wonderful, perfectly-designed trip to the past. Just be prepared to face the past, as it may not be as kind as you remember.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/david.jpg” ] David Lins is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania that has loved video games since he was old enough to hold a controller. He enjoys all sorts of games, but prefers difficult or terrifying ones. Currently, he plays too many roguelikes. When not writing about his favorite hobby, he loves to drink beer, write fiction, play tabletop RPGs or board games, and hang out with his friends and family. He also has a passion for technology and loves tinkering with his phone, computer, and other devices. Follow David on Twitter for “hilarious” or “insightful” tweets about nothing in particular. [/author]