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Zombie Vikings

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Zoink Games
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Zombie Vikings'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 11, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Zombie Vikings is a four-player co-op stab-you-in-the-gut-a-thon laced with a dead funny story.

The past few years have produced some really good beat-'em-ups on a number of gaming platforms, even if they had a significant amount of time between each release. Castle Crashers remains at the top of the heap when it comes to the modern entries in the genre, helped out considerably by the humor and gameplay. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World shows that a licensed property can be a good source of inspiration, especially since it takes on the task of being a homage to the classic River City Ransom. Meanwhile, Charlie Murder may be an Xbox 360 exclusive, but it also channels the spirit of the classic NES game while mixing in a surprisingly good story. Zombie Vikings tries to be among those modern classics, and while it doesn't reach that lofty goal, it does well for itself.

The basic Norse mythology is familiar thanks to recent movies in the Marvel cinematic universe, but it remains quirky. The Norse god Odin was busy fixing up his staff when he was met by his adopted son Loki. After being tricked into sympathizing with the demigod, Odin's one good eye was snatched by Loki, leaving him virtually blind. With Thor and the other demigods too busy to help out, Odin turns to four warriors he raised from the dead to get his eye back.

Much like Zoink's previous effort, Zombie Vikings uses humor at every opportunity to advance the story, and while some visual gags are at play, the title relies on spoken humor. The various backstories for the heroes, Loki's mannerisms, and the dialogue from the shopkeepers are just a few examples of humor that works well. There's enough absurdity and bathroom humor that can be subjectively funny, but the more modern touches are hit-and-miss, depending on what you find funny. The references to sparkly vampires and "The Lord of the Rings" can be funny even if they've been repeated several times during the years, but references to selfies and social media don't strike a chord. Again, humor is a subjective thing, so some may find this funny while others may think it's trying too hard.

The core gameplay sticks to standard beat-'em-up fare. Each character possesses a standard attack and a special attack, and both can be powered up to a stronger version provided you take the time to charge them up. While basic attacks are pretty much the same for each character, their special moves are distinct. Hedgy can vomit explosive skull totems while Caw-kaa can use her wings for dive attacks. Seagard can use his stomach squid for a more extended reach while Gunborg can pump up her muscles until she explodes and takes out enemies within range. Aside from those moves, they can also throw enemies and creatures as projectile weapons or to activate switches. New to the PC version is an invincible unicorn pig that accompanies you in your travels. He can be used like any enemy or animal, but he'll respawn if he falls into a pit. He can be used as a jumping pad if you leap near him, and in some areas, he can also be used as a mobile turret to thin out a crowd of foes.

Beyond the core gameplay, Zombie Vikings features some pretty interesting features. For starters, each stage lets you change your character, so you can try every one of them without restarting the game. Interestingly, the characters don't vary much, so although Gunborg may be considered the tank of the group, she is far from slow in movement and attack speed. Every stage also features an optional side-quest or two. You'll perform some unorthodox activities like rescuing a girl from a whale's blowhole or finding a lost cat for a blind woman, but you're rewarded with runes to boost your stats and special swords that have different powers. Some give you life every time you hit an enemy. Others stack up poison damage to foes or slow them down temporarily. There are even a few that add extra hits, like a cat on a pole that constantly scratches at people. Like the rest of the game, the swords are offbeat, but they aren't restricted to specific characters, so you can try them all no matter who you roll with.

Though simple to understand and execute, the game is fun for fans of the genre. Even if you choose the slower characters, combat remains fast and fluid, and all of your attacks have good reach, both horizontally and vertically. The game is also manageable as a solo affair thanks to the generous checkpoint system. There are a good amount of stages, and while they don't vary much save for a few that feature chase sequences, they also aren't so long that they become boring. Even if you skip the side-quests, the experience still feels worthwhile.

Of course, a game like this thrives on multiplayer, and players will like what's on tap. Up to four players can take part in the game simultaneously, and the title adds loads of cooperative actions. Special runes can be obtained, so you can use a specific character's powers with another player to perform enhanced attacks. Though you can resurrect fallen allies by putting their body parts back together, you can also use those parts as impromptu weapons. You can even stack everyone together into a large zombie tower to give people a height advantage when attacking or just for laughs.

However, two elements of the multiplayer aren't so good. The first is the versus mode, which tends to be lackluster in most beat-'em-ups, and this is no different. The other element that doesn't really work is online play. To be fair, the actual performance of the netcode could be great, but at the time of this writing, roughly a month after the game's release, there are no online players to be found. Unless the game gets a spike in interested players, you'll have to make some arrangements beforehand if you want to play multiplayer without being local.

What keeps Zombie Vikings from reaching the upper echelon of its genre is its reliance on simplicity. If you're expecting a leveling system, you're out of luck since your character's abilities remain static from beginning to end. Your starting health, moves and strength are the same ones you rely on by the time you reach the game's credits, and nothing new is added to spice things up along the way. While you have a variety of swords to work with, most feature enough negative stats that the benefits don't seem to counteract it. Also, enemies tend to behave similarly even though they look different. No matter where you fight, every battle feels the same, and the only changes are in the boss fights, which let you experiment with different strategies.

Then there are the bugs. The game has had some cleanup done in the time between the PS4 release and the PC one, and a few patches released shortly thereafter have tidied up things even more. Still, the game suffers from some oddities. During a few cut scenes, characters began to violently jiggle around, and some had missing elements.  Missing irises and swords would appear and disappear without reason. The game sometimes doesn't read hits to the drawbridge targets, forcing players to lose some health to jump into a pit and then get carried over to the other side. There were a few instances when you could get an easy kill and other times when enemies get stuck in the ground, preventing you from moving forward unless you restart at a checkpoint. These kinds of things don't dampen the fun, but they are disappointing to see after much time has been spent to make this release cleaner.

The last game that Zoink did, Stick It to the Man, was notable for its interesting graphical style. The completely flat character models and watercolor paints combined to generate a stylish and memorable look. That same style carries over here, and the results are the same, with the title looking rather good in cut scenes and during gameplay. All of the flourishes you'd expect, like impressive particle effects and solid frame rate, are here when you're going solo or with all four players in tow, and this time, it can be appreciated without the film grain effect of the previous title.

The sound is pretty fantastic. Whether you agree with the humor or not, the voice acting is excellent throughout, and all of the performances are top-notch. The effects come out pretty cleanly, but the soundtrack is the real star. Far from an epic like one would imagine, the light, bouncy tunes emphasize that the game refuses to take itself seriously. It's good fighting music, and you'll want to turn up the volume.

Zombie Vikings is an experience that would've been better if the bugs had been cleaned up and there were more meat to the gameplay. Nevertheless, what's here is pretty enjoyable. The presentation is different but inviting, while the humor hits more often than it misses. Though the gameplay can feel repetitive, the amount of content is great for brawling fans who love local co-op play or can organize themselves for some online. Though other games are better, Zombie Vikings is still worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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