Friday, October 6

Review: Volgarr the Viking [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

If you’re like me and you yearn for the classic days of walking up to a machine, putting in your quarter, and proceeding to get your ass handed to you in a way that modern games rarely dare to even hint at you’re going to want to check out Volgarr the Viking. Right off the bat you won’t be able to miss an opening level scheme reminiscent of the arcade classic Rastan and, much like the classic it is emulating, it is designed to be challenging through and through.

As you may have gathered Volgarr is a classic side-scrolling arcade action game not just in appearance but in attitude and difficulty as well. It can very much be beaten and mastered but to get there you’re simply going to have to put in the time first. As you repeatedly die at the hands of the many enemies and traps you’ll face you will inevitably build up a sort of pattern for how best to do things. This isn’t a game you’re going to start up and be done with a few hours later. Volgarr requires a certain level of investment if you’re even going to get to the first boss and defeat it, let alone get through the additional 6 worlds and multiple endings beyond it.

In order to survive you’ll need to fully master the nuances of everything Volgarr is capable of in terms of his attacks and movements. As invulnerable as he looks Volgarr has a serious case of glass jaw as everything he faces will harm or kill you if you’re not on top of the situation at all times. Swinging your sword or throwing your spear to kill an enemy is pretty simple business but even things like enemies managing to jump at you can mean death if you’re not quick to react with the right movements or counters. Dart and other traps are also peppered everywhere and will take you down a stage if they hit you. Much like the classic Ghouls n’ Ghosts you’ll start out being able to take 2 hits, with the first hit removing your shield and the second meaning death. You’ll be able to get to chests periodically that will help you power up but if you take a hit it will immediately take you down again to being more vulnerable. The easy moral of this story? Don’t get hit!

One benefit is that once you get a pattern rolling if you can execute it consistently you can practically get into a muscle memory situation as many streamers have done to conduct speed runs.The game doesn’t demand perfection but it does seem that your best best is to get into a rhythm of repetition and continue to refine it until you’re able to clear things more easily. Be sure, as you try to stay alive, to be on the lookout for anything suspicious or opportunities to use a spear in a wall to jump somewhere out of the way though because there are secrets and alternate paths around you, but you may need to check out a walkthrough to find some of them as they’re often tricky!

All told a game like Volgarr the Viking will either immediately appeal to your gaming sensibilities and desire to be challenged or it won’t. This isn’t likely the type of game that will convert anyone unless you’ve been searching for an excuse to “git gud” at something that puts the bar pretty high up and won’t be compromising for the sake of your feelings. If you do take the plunge after playing for a little bit I would recommend hitting videos of the people speed-running it so get an idea of not only where some secrets are but to get some hints on how to get a flow going. They’re going to make it all look far easier than it is but it is likely you’ll learn that being aggressive can work out if you’ve got the timing down and understand how best to use the attacks and skills you have available to you. If you miss the old school days where you needed to make a real investment to conquer a game and love that feeling of accomplishment when you finally pull it off Volgarr is absolutely a great choice, for everyone else it’s probably going to be a pass.

Score: 7.5

  • A well-executed homage to challenging arcade games past
  • Challenging gameplay and some very cool (but often brutal) boss fights
  • If you’re not scared off by its difficulty it is very rewarding when you make progress

  • Not mainstream-friendly in the least in terms of overall difficulty
  • Jumping controls in places can be fidgety
  • As in classic arcade games any hit, big or small, is going to hurt you just the same