Zombie Vikings is a modern side scrolling beat-em-up coming to us from veterans of funky weirdness, Zoink Games. I say modern, because unlike the button mashing arcade money put-in-a-thons of the past, there is a lot here to legitimately enjoy: variety in combat, uniquely designed and highly animated characters, and an emphasis on skill that you won’t find in your Simpsons or Streets of Rage machines. It’s also modern in how it portrays Vikings. Like most popular modern fictional characters, the ones here happen to be zombies.
“Yes,” I thought after five minutes of Zombie Vikings, “this is a game I’m going to enjoy.”
In the world of Zombie Vikings, Odin, all-father of the Norse gods, has his eye stolen by the mischievous Loki, because that’s the kind of guy he is apparently, and Odin revives a team of zombie heroes to retrieve it. From the outset it becomes clear that the ‘Viking’ aspect of the game isn’t what you might have expected. Nobody has a Norse accent, and there aren’t really any jokes about Viking mythology. As such, the game doesn’t really work as a parody. However, as its own world, it is surprisingly charming and enjoyable. The Nordic backdrop is consistent and beautifully designed, with fun creative additions such as magical one-eyed squids and even a Viking version of football (which naturally involves swords and giant fish). Each character is also unique and memorable – even the first level boss has their own brand of humour and a wonderfully silly design. “Yes,” I thought after five minutes of Zombie Vikings, “this is a game I’m going to enjoy.”
The gameplay is a refreshing take on traditional beat-em-ups. Each playable character has their own combat characteristics and special moves, and believe me when I say that the difference between them is significant enough that you’ll soon have a favourite to play as. Each enemy also has a method of attack that you can recognise and adapt to. In other words, it isn’t a straight up button masher. This variety makes replaying levels a joy, as does each character’s set of non-repeated one-liners, and taking this online really makes the game shine.
As Zombie Vikings goes on you can earn and buy different weapons and runes, and something you realise in later levels is that they can make your strategy become very repetitive. One rune allows you to charge special attacks so fast that you can make enemies flinch before they can attack you, and so all you need to do is repeat yourself when faced with pretty much any foe. As soon as this happened for me, however, I was suddenly faced with a boss battle where you have to grab an imp and throw him into a goal to win a mystical soccer tournament. I certainly didn’t see that one coming, and it reaffirmed my faith in the game as a departure from the boring norm of side-scrolling repetitiveness. It was, however, a very close shave.
Another less impressive aspect is the humour. It’s varied, with characters and set-ups ranging nicely, but the jokes just fall flat, and they are told in such an un-ironic way that the humour comes across as too sure of itself; a bit like an Adam Sandler movie. Despite this, the game still manages to deliver an enjoyable amount of charm. Zombie Vikings feels like its own genuine creation, and this comes across in all aspects of the story and in-game world. Even if a lot of jokes fall flat, they don’t ruin the flow of gameplay or make you tired of the product.
Overall, Zombie Vikings is a joy to play. The gameplay is exciting and demands enough skill from the player to make it a refreshing departure from traditional button-mashers. The characters and the world of the game are unique and fleshed out, and do a great job of keeping everything entertaining, although you need to get over the unimpressive humour and let yourself enjoy the silliness of it all in order to really enjoy the experience. Once you do that, however, what an experience it is.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to continue hanging with the Vikings.