You know, I’m happy I didn’t just keep to my schedule. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the chance to try Zombie Vikings with Zoink Games PR-Man Mikael Forslind. When I approached him and asked about the game, he immediately said, “Want to give it a go?”
How could I say no to that? So I took the 2nd gamepad and played a two-man coop with him, with another person joining us afterwards as we cruised through a couple of the demo levels killing monsters as our zombified Viking warriors while we spoke about the game and its development and everything else!
Zombie Vikings is a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Double Dragon where you control up to four undead Vikings, called into service by Odin himself. Loki has stolen his remaining good eye and made off with it for some nefarious purpose so he needs you to go get it back for him!
The game is very easy to pick up and get into, with the familiar control and game style. Each of the zombies has a basic attack and a signature one and you can charge both of them. For my zombie, a burly female Viking, her charged main attack was a spinning one that reminded me so much of Link in The Legend of Zelda. Her signature was throwing out her arm like a hookshot if you allow me more Zelda comparisons, dragging her towards enemies, but when you charged it, it made her big muscles get even larger and then blow up, causing area of effect damage. She would then pop-up without losing her health.
In fact, there is no health in the game and as zombies your characters can’t die. They will however lose body parts. During our playthrough, Mikael’s character lost his head quite often and it was my responsibility to pick it up and bring it back to his body to get him into fighting shape again. In fact, picking other characters up is a valid playing strategy as there are some escort side-quests (more on that further down) and you don’t want them to get hurt. Besides, when you pick things up the characters will raise their weapons and the objects or people will just hang from them. It’s quite hilarious.
The two sidequests we did were an escort mission and a fetch quest. The first one was to find a blind witch’s cat, or what she thought was a cat, and the reward was a nice sword shaped like a skunk’s tail. I really enjoyed this quest because it wasn’t just escorting the witch and finding the cat while wading through enemies but there was also a PVP element to it, as you need to deathmatch for the weapon. With zombies not dying, this meant fighting until someone lost their head. We were playing a 2-man game at the time so it was a simple match, but it left me wondering how fun it would be with all four players there in a free-for-all. Oh and by the way, I won!
The second mission I found to be even more enjoyable. First, it was rather short, just getting a jar of medicine from a goblin. We had our third player with us at this point and while Mikael and he distracted the creature, I quickly snatched the jar and took it to the doctor waiting for us.
The second reason I liked this quest much was because it tied to and demonstrated something Mikael mentioned when I asked about the characters: the four of them are unique, each with their own personality, and personal goals and stories. During the campaign, the players would experience those different stories. In this case, the person the doctor was asking the medicine for was one of the vikings’ mothers, their estranged and almost forgotten mother, and seeing the mother speak to her undead child was both weird and funny and very touching.
One of the things Mikael was very keen to point out was that this wasn’t just a random button masher. There are cutscenes, side-quests, exploration and subplots to help break up the pace of the game and help it not become monotonous. Adding the colourful art-style, it also gives the game plenty of personality and charm, something to raise it above others in the genre.
During our playthrough we saw a few of the cutscenes, the first one with Loki speaking to a mean looking troll and the others being mid-mission and serving as side-quest and NPC introductions. The scenes themselves aren’t animated, just still images with text, but they work wonderfully for the game’s style. I’m not sure if they have audio—we didn’t have any headsets and I couldn’t hear anything over the rush of people in the venue.
The ‘cinematics’ also helped tell you about the zombies’ personalities. One of the characters told the witch with the skunk ‘cat’ something like “Lady, that isn’t a cat!” showing his perhaps brutal honesty or just bewilderment at the weirdness of it all, but he was quickly interrupted by my character berating him, “Shut up! She’s giving us loot!” I couldn’t help but laugh at this.
As we played through the demo we collected loot from the quests and gold from enemies and chests and when I asked what the gold was for he told me there would be upgrades between stages, from more damage to special actions like double jumps. I followed it up asking if those special abilities would allow for greater exploration, maybe find hidden areas and he replied that of course, but also certain characters would have access to specific areas tied to their story and the same applied to the side-quests. If he hadn’t been playing his particular Viking, we wouldn’t have gotten the medicine side-quest, as it was a character arc quest.
In terms of exploration, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the stages themselves aren’t completely flat, but have several layers. At one point, to get the witch’s side quest we crossed a bridge I thought was pure scenery, and it took us to a new area, a new foreground, with everything else moving into the background. The only thing I could say was, “This is awesome!” It’s such a simple element, such a tiny mechanic but it adds so much to the exploration, as I’m sure I’d be looking around for every branching path for secrets!
The game’s inspiration, for me, was clear. Norse mythology with some variation on the Einherjar myth, but Mikael told me there was more to this. Sure, there was the Norse myth connection and there would be Norse characters popping up throughout the game, but the real inspiration was old buddy-cop and road-trip movies, where the journey itself is the important bit, as well as all the strange things that happen on the way.
While we played, I wondered about what game modes there would be on release, thinking it was perfect for an arena-type mode, where you get waves you need fight off. He said it was a good idea but they didn’t have plans for that yet. He did mention, however, a secondary mode and it caught me off guard. It was something I didn’t really expect: soccer. But this being Zombie Vikings, it’s not a ball and you won’t be kicking it. Instead, you’ll compete to pick up goblins from the ground and chuck them into dragon mouths. Not exactly soccer but hey, it works!
Zombie Vikings is set to release later this year on PS4, PC, Mac and Linux and is currently in development using Unity, which was the tool of choice for most developers in the event. This is one I’m keeping an eye out for—I can’t wait to play it with my friends online. It would also make an awesome party game with local multiplayer!