By Tyler Lubben / November 8th, 2016
|Developer||Slick Entertainment Inc.
|Publisher||Slick Entertainment Inc.
|Release Date||October 4, 2016
|Genre||Beat ’em Up|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, PC
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone 10+|
A good beat ’em up is a beautiful thing, and who’s better at beating things up than Vikings? This was my rationale when starting my playthrough of Viking Squad, the new title from Slick Entertainment Inc. While most of my gaming experience with Vikings came from the “lost” variety, I certainly wasn’t opposed to jump in with some good ol’ fashioned beatdowns. Of course, this is a long and storied genre in this day and age, so the question that begs an answer is whether or not this game does anything new and exciting, or if it is just another “wash, rinse, repeat” of the same old thing we’ve seen for years.
When it comes to Viking Squad’s story, a lot is left to the player’s imagination. There’s no dialogue whatsoever, so you’re left with a short intro where the leader of the Vikings is tricked into accepting a strange jewel from a green demon (who apparently is Loki, according to the Steam Trading Cards) and is turned into a strange monster obsessed with wealth. Players are tasked with travelling the land and fighting through waves of enemies as they try to recover four gems needed to open the gate to Valhalla and challenge Loki directly. To do this, the Viking Squad must do what they do best: fight, pillage and ra- … well… Let’s just say fight and pillage.
At first glance, Viking Squad may seem like your standard beat ‘em up, and, in a lot of ways you’d be right. Most stages in the game follow the standard “walk right, beat up everything that moves, keep walking right” formula that longtime fans have known for years. Each of the four playable characters controls basically the same but has slightly different abilities. For example, the blue Viking has a large shield to block attacks and ice attacks to freeze enemies, while the red Viking wields twin axes and depends more on DPS attacks and dodging. The way that Viking Squad diverges from this is how players move around the stage. While players are generally free to do anything they want along the X-axis, when moving up or down the character will actually hop between four distinct lanes that make up the traversable terrain. Players will only be able to attack enemies in the same lane as them, and vice versa. In this way, gameplay can take on a more strategic approach than other beat ‘em ups, as players will need to be aware of their positioning and consider the abilities of their opponents in any given fight.
While the enemies in Viking Squad are pretty unique from each other as you play through, I found that they all tended to fall into three categories: strikers, chargers and throwers. Strikers are your standard “rush in and attack” enemies that you can deal with pretty easily by taking them out as they approach, but will try to overwhelm you with superior numbers. Chargers are slightly stronger enemies that can attack from a distance with spears or other such weapons and must be carefully avoided to prevent big damage. Throwers, well, throw things – usually bombs. Aside from that, you’ll be having the same kind of fights from start to finish. There is some variety in this, such as larger enemies that have a bit of super armor to prevent being stunned by your attacks, but I still felt a sense of déjà vu as I fought enemies that looked different as I progressed, but basically served the same purpose.
The game’s many boss fights are where the game’s strategic elements are more prominent. From giant hermit crabs to polar bears to yetis, these huge enemies have a much larger pool of attacks that players will need to learn to avoid if they hope to succeed. Many of the attacks have a certain tell, so players will know when they need to clear out of a lane to avoid a big charging attack. Alternatively, bosses will cycle through a set number of attacks, so players will need to learn the pattern to know what’s coming next. Overall, none of the boss fights are overly challenging as long as you keep a close eye on their attacks and take your opportunities to attack when they present themselves.
Viking Squad features some light RPG elements, but, rather than gaining strength through killing enemies and accruing experience points, you’re rewarded through the amount of loot you can collect. As you travel through the game’s four worlds, defeated enemies will sometimes drop golden goblets or other spoils that count towards your treasure collection. Whenever you complete a world (or leave early from your ship) you turn in everything you have collected to the monstrous jarl. You can then take your loot into town and spend it on upgrades. It works a lot like gold, but, where gold is used to buy health potions and other consumables, treasure is used to buy much more important things: stat increases and equipment. For a bit of treasure, you can permanently increase your max health, strength or rune attack (basically your special attack). Alternatively, weapons and armor you have discovered as you play can be purchased and equipped to further bolster your stats. And, in a move that I always enjoy in such games, all weapons and armor change the appearance of your character, so you can get a bit of fashion on as you find a look that suits you.
Playing through the game, I was almost immediately reminded of the art style from Ubisoft’s 2011 title Rayman Origins. Everything from the characters to the environments to the cutscenes all seems to be hand drawn, and the game oozes character for it. Even little touches like giving the standard polar bear mob enemies different faces didn’t go unnoticed, and it helped keep me engaged that much more. The game was also spot on in the sound department with music that borrowed heavily from both Nordic and heavy metal sensibilities. Strong horn and drum themes play as you fight your way through regular stages, and the introduction of an electric guitar when bosses appear only served to keep the excitement levels high.
Of course, what good would a beat ‘em up be if it didn’t have multiplayer? Viking Squad features both online and local co-op for up to three players. Unfortunately, I was never able to find random players online to play with, but I was able to connect with fellow oprainfall writer Mike Fontanini for some jolly cooperation. Unfortunately, I had been playing the game a fair bit more than Font, so I was a higher level and had been through over half the game. It’s unclear if the strength of enemies scales to the number of players or how much players have leveled up, or if we were playing in stages not intended for a character of his level, but he did seem to die somewhat more often than me. Additionally, while the game ran buttery smooth during single player, I did notice a fair bit of lag in the movements of enemies and allies alike while playing online. Even the frame rate took a dip at times, likely so the action could stay as current as possible for the both of us despite connection issues. None of it was so bad as to negatively affect my opinion of the overall experience, though, and I’m not prepared to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the game. Just be aware that the quality of your multiplayer experience will likely hinge on the connection speeds of all players involved.
The amount of time you spend with Viking Squad all depends on how deeply you’re willing to delve. For me, I saw the credits roll after about five hours. However, that was after reaching a point where I decided to just plow through and finish the game as quickly as possible. You’re going to miss a lot of content if you play the game this way, though. Collecting special treasures, carrying them all the way through a world and bringing them back home yields permanent bonuses that will help you on your journey, such as increased drops of healing items (a perk that was indispensable in the final battle). Even so, whether you’re just looking for a bit of a distraction for an afternoon, or want to really sink your teeth in to collect all the treasures and challenge the game’s Hard Mode, Viking Squad is certainly a steal at its $15 price point. Just remember, greed is good!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
beat-’em-upPCReviewslick entertainment incViking Squad