The visuals and humor will make an impression, though the combat is simply good and the end result is solid if not spectacular. Zombie Vikings makes a good impression and is a welcome addition to the beat-’em-up genre, but does not do much to set itself apart outside of the graphic style.
I brought up the graphics twice in the beginning – and with good reason. If nothing else, Zombie Vikings is gloriously entertaining to look at, just like the developer’s previous title, Stick it to the Man! The two games have a very similar graphic style, with dark, morbid themes punctuated by an interesting use of ‘flat’ 2D characters that look like paper (noticed whenever they turn one way or the other in the story) and bright colors that jump out against the backdrops that are usually much darker. The end result is something that is truly memorable from a visual standpoint, and despite how similar the style between the two games feels, it does not get old.
There are also plenty of moments where the dark humor elicited anything from a groan (the good kind, I was smiling) to a chuckle and even a laugh. Right off of the bat the female zombie laments the fact that she is… well… a zombie, and not a sexy vampire (the good kind, not those sparkly kind). Lots of jokes poke fun at the undead source material, but they just how serious can you take a game that is based on Loki stealing Odin’s one good eye and running off with it? The slapstick nature of the humor really resonated with me.
The game itself is a side scrolling beat-’em-up that pits one of your zombie warriors (ranging from a quick and nimble undead hedgehog to the more tanking Gunborg – my favorite was the female Caw-kaa) against hordes of unfriendly critters. Each of the characters plays quite differently from the other, and some levels require that you use one over the other. Awesome for making you at least try different characters (at least if you are in single player mode), but less appealing if you just really disliked using one (I was not a fan of Seagurd at all).
In truth, Zombie Vikings works better as a multiplayer experience anyways. Most brawling games (except the old Battletoads) work better this way. They are just more fun, and also make it easier to progress through the game, and Zombie Vikings is no different. You will run, jump and slash your way through hordes of the same kinds of creatures, so what the game somewhat lacks in variety is offset by playing with a friend. While having a friend by your side makes the combat easier, it also makes things competitive as at the end of each level or the inevitable throw down/showdown over a unique item that pops up here and there. Zombie Vikings feels as though it was built with multiplayer in mind.
Zombie Vikings does deserve credit for trying to create variety. The different characters help, and the handful of different moves from picking someone up to charged attacks helps, but the combat is really quite shallow. You will find yourself essentially doing the same thing throughout the levels. The level design is solid, often creating winding paths and making use of perspective on the screen as you move towards the front or back, but I still found myself simply mashing away at the attack and jump buttons a lot.
Probably the best hook is the ability to earn new equipment, either through the gameplay or by earning enough gold that you can purchase them. Lower cost weapons are mostly cosmetic, and there are runes that give perks such as additional health. What is really interesting are the runes and weapons that feel like they are made to work together, such as a rune that gives you a higher life cap but will drain to a lower point over time. However, if you get the weapon that gives you life for every attack, you can offset that deprecation in life and make better use of your higher maximum. Things like this add a layer of strategy to the proceedings, but it does feel like there was room for just a bit more.
It is worth noting that there have been some issues with the game since it launched. Most of the technical hurdles have been cleared since that time, though the online play still appears to be pretty hit or miss. Great to see the team actively attempting to address that, but still disappointing that it released a bit before it was ready.
Zombie Vikings is an entertaining brawling game that works better with friends than alone. That is not to say that the single player experience is bad – it’s actually quite solid, but far more laughs were had when we played with others. The sound and visual design are again excellent, and the levels and items help to add variety, but at the end of the day Zombie Vikings shares a flaw with many other brawlers out there, and that is a high level of repetition. If you do not mind or even enjoy some mindless carnage, you will absolutely adore this title I suspect. For others, Zombie Vikings will go down as a good game, but not best in class for a beat-’em-up.
Article by Nick