Volgarr The Viking, the most recent free game with Microsoft’s Games with Gold initiative, has been receiving quite mixed press of late. The reviewers seem to quite like it, but the gamers seem to have a different opinion. I think that opinion stems from the fact that Volgarr is hard… like really hard. It’s harder than Wolverine’s skull or Superman’s abs. That’s how hard it is. But a game being hard doesn’t make it a bad game. It makes it a challenge, sure. But when did a challenge become a bad thing? I appreciate the challenge that Volgarr imposes, and the fact that it’s wrapped up in a beautiful, cool, 16bit retro skin is just the icing on the cake. I mean, it’s a cake made of nails… but at least there’s some icing.
Nail cake aside, Volgarr is an incredibly simple game at heart. It harks back to the old hack and slash platformers of the late 80s and early 90s. I’m talking about games like Cadash, or Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts. Those sorts of games filled my childhood, especially Viking themed games, with The Lost Vikings being one of my favourite childhood games. That’s probably why I love Volgarr so much, because it looks and feels exactly like the games I used to love back in the 90s. The level design is simple, with a good mix of platforming and combat to keep the levels feeling fresh and non-repetitive. The look of the game is fantastic too, but that’s probably more down to the fact that I love a retro art-style. Crazy Viking Studios have created a wonderfully nostalgic feel with the design, controls and general theme of the game – and I think that’s something to appreciate, despite the game’s difficulty.
I doubt many people would really complain about the look of the game, or the fact that it’s trying to emulate the classic hack and slash games of the 80s and 90s. I think the main complaints, however, stem from the difficulty of the game, which is quite understandable. It’s an incredibly challenging game, though it’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to give you a sense of achievement when you finally defeat a boss, or complete a world. Completing the game isn’t supposed to be done in one or two play-throughs, it’s supposed to take blood, sweat and tears… and a hell of a lot of swearing. It’s Crazy Viking’s prerogative to make you die, Volgarr is supposed to leave you frustrated and on the verge of giving up. Why? Because when you finally decide to pick the controller back up, once you’ve grinded through the constant deaths and you’ve worked out every inch of the game, only then will you be able to complete it – and that sense of achievement will be so euphoric you might never look at another game the same again. Us gamers have been somewhat coddled by our video-games of late, with constant checkpoints, save points, tutorials and restarts galore. It’s refreshing to play a game that challenges you to beat it, and actually gives you a challenge whilst you’re at it.
Volgarr is not for everyone, though. I know that I could write thousands and thousands of words in an attempt to convince you that you’d like it, but I know that they’ll have little effect. You will have made your mind up about the game, possibly even before you’ve tried it, but if not, within the first five minutes for sure. It’s a Marmite kind of game, the kind of game that you’ll either love or hate. You’ll already know if you like these sorts of games or not and, if you don’t, there’s no real point in trying Volgarr. It’s a stop start game, it’s about trial and error and it’s about dying… a lot. You have to learn the levels so that you can pre-empt enemy moves, so that you know where you can save health or where you can find boosts and armour – it’s a repetitive task to play this game, but it’s one that some people will love. If you do love that sort of game, you’ll adore Volgarr, so I strongly recommend you get to downloading it whilst it’s still free on the Xbox One.