There are lots of reasons why I love doing these BFTP articles, but one of the main ones is that I get the chance to take a look back at some great games that simply wouldn’t be made today. Imagine the following marketing pitch if you will:
Dev “So we’ve got this great new game idea, it involves 3 Vikings who get kidnapped by an alien”
Marketing “Vikings kidnapped by an alien?”
Dev “Yes, in his UFO”
Marketing “Er, why?”
Dev “Because the alien is looking to create an inter-galactic zoo”
Marketing “Get out!”
Thankfully for me and you, The Lost Vikings wasn’t made in today’s environment where games had to make sense. It was made back in 1992 by Developers Silicon and Synapse (who would later become Blizzard) and focussed much more on clever puzzles and its distinct brand of wacky humour – hence the intergalactic zoo.
The game itself is a puzzler at its core, with a few key dynamics that sets it apart from other games. Firstly there are 3 different characters, each with different abilities to help overcome the game’s puzzles. Erik the Swift is the only Viking who can jump and he can also run and headbutt walls to destroy them. Baelog the Fierce is the warrior, as he can swing his sword to attack and kill enemies. He can also use his bow to kill enemies and hit switches from afar. The final Viking – Olaf the Stout – comes armed with a shield which can block enemy attacks. Also he can place it above his head to act as a platform for Erik to jump onto, or to glide down from great heights without taking damage.
The ultimate goal for the Vikings is to return home. To do this they must all work together to solve the puzzles and reach the exit of each level. All 3 Vikings must reach the exit alive to complete a particular level, and so death of any Viking means a level restart. Each Viking has only a certain amount of health, and events such as falling from a height and enemy attacks can cause damage. The other thing to note, is that despite there being 3 playable characters, The Lost Vikings is a 1-2 player game (depending on the version you play). This will mean that there will always be at least 1 character that is left uncontrolled for periods of time, so another added difficulty is making sure that any Viking you are not currently controlling is left in a safe place, free from damage.
The levels themselves are grouped into various worlds. The Vikings begin on the UFO that they were kidnapped on, but will soon find themselves in a fantasy land full of dinosaurs, an industrial world with large mechanical obstacles to overcome and even a bizarre land full of sweets and machines which will inflate the Vikings so they can float around. The best thing about these differing levels is not just the stark difference visually, but also how each world will bring different things to the table (such as the aforementioned inflating machine) that allow for expansion of puzzles in the game.
And it is in this puzzle variety that the game really shines. When you consider that each Viking really only has 2 or 3 abilities at the start, and they learn no more as the game progresses, you’d be forgiven for thinking that throughout the 36 levels, things would get a little stale. But it’s testament to the design of the puzzles and levels themselves that this is never the case. The puzzles and level design is adapted in such a way, that the combination of each Viking’s abilities are used in cleverer ways throughout the game, and this in unison with each of the world’s unique terrain, objects and enemies keeps things feeling fresh. It’s a game that can get quite challenging (and therefore unforgiving) towards the later levels, meaning you really have to plan your moves correctly or risk a Viking death or him becoming stuck. But in such a puzzler, this learning curve is welcome and expected.
Hand in hand with the game design is the humour I mentioned at the beginning. The game never takes itself too seriously, and knows its premise is silly, and plays on that fact. The evil kidnapping alien is called Tomator and he lives in the Croutonian Empire. That should tell you all you need to know about this game and its wacky nature. The blatant juxtaposition of Vikings being aboard a spaceship rather than their normal ship is also highlighted, and there are even references to the Wizard of Oz in the Viking dialogue, despite the Vikings having no knowledge of it. It is simple humour and fun which just helps encompass what is a fun and simple game at its core.
The Lost Vikings for me represents some of the best bits of puzzle platforming. It’s nice to see that a game can work so well and be so varied without forcing variation on you half-way through. Most games these days succeed because they present you new items or abilities which allow you to overcome new problems that the game presents. Whereas Lost Viking is refreshing in its approach of giving you everything upfront and then giving you different challenges as you progress. Like every Metroid game would be if Samus didn’t have her conveniently calamitous accident at the start of the game and lose all her stuff. Couple this approach with the humour and varied locations and its little surprise that this game is such a gem.
And it seems only fitting that with a game that has such wacky humour that I should sign off with a bad pun.
The Lost Vikings – it’s a Norse-some game!
(Alternative puns appreciated in the comments)