Zombie Vikings Review – PlayStation 4

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My family would have no problem cutting the Cable TV umbilical cord, were it not for two television series: History Channel’s The Vikings, and AMC’s The Walking Dead (ok, technically three if you count the incredible Fear the Walking Dead).

It is no surprise then, that if there was any video game mash-up that would get my family of gamers going it would be a hybrid that somehow incorporated both zombies and Vikings. And from the title of this review it is obvious that this oddball pairing is precisely what Swedish developer Zoink! Games (also see their fantastic Stick it to the Man), has delivered with its surprisingly enjoyable PlayStation Network release, Zombie Vikings.

Zombie Vikings is an old-school side-scrolling multiplayer brawler in the vein of the classic Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. It follows a rather bizarre storyline in which the Norse god Odin has had (get ready for this…) his eyeball stolen by none other than the mischievous Loki. Odin calls on the services of four of the most fabled and feared Viking legends and warriors to hunt down Loki and retrieve his lost appendage.  The fact that each one of these characters has long since been dead results in a rather “putrid posse” (it’s a press release quote, folks – and I like it), that sets off through a series of stylized Nordic settings in search of Odin.

As with any good brawler, the group’s travels bring them face to face with scores of bad guys just begging for a good pummeling. Each member of the undead foursome – Gunborg, Seagurd, Hedgy and Caw-Kaa – has unique (and rather humorous) power moves that add to their appeal.

Seagard is actually the amalgamation two characters – Seagard the Viking and his live-in octopus (InkyPinky), who endows him with a high-strength tentacle throw and the ability to squirt ink. Caw-Kaa is your typical misanthropic teenaged Goth type, but one that can sprout wings and talons for bird-like aerial attacks. Gunborg is a hulking Viking woman who can flex her muscles enough that she looks like a big green raspberry just before exploding all over the enemies.  Hedgy – well, all I can think of for Hedgy is that he represents the fabled Norse Berserker, looking a bit like Animal from the Muppet Show and just as crazy, but with the added bonus of being able to vomit bombs.

So if you couldn’t tell already – Zombie Vikings in no way takes itself seriously. It is meant to be as goofy and entertaining as possible, and for the most part it succeeds.  Written by Zach Weinersmith of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comics, the dialog definitely comes from someone who knows how to make people laugh. I can say that at times some of humor did get a little stale, especially with respect to some of the contemporary social media and “selfie” references, but those few moments were more than made up for elsewhere.

In terms of overall presentation, Zombie Vikings is really quite impressive. The character design and backgrounds are fantastically dark and menacing, and the artwork delivers the nostalgic feel of an old-school Saturday morning cartoon – but with one unique feature in that all of the 2D characters are rendered as being completely flat cels in their environment, so when each character changes direction it appears as if a paper-thin card has been rotated.  It is not like this is the first game to utilize this aesthetic, but it is one of the best implementations for sure.

As an added bonus, the game dialog is fully voiced through the game – both in the cutscenes and in-game. The voice actors might not be the biggest celebrity names (most have only worked on previous Zoink! Games) but they deliver Weinersmith’s dialog flawlessly.

Really the only issue I might have with Zombie Vikings is that the brawler genre can tend to turn bland in a rather short time. The developer does a pretty good job of trying to infuse some mini-games into the story to give respite, but those mini-games only go so far.  The repetitious nature of the gameplay is lessened greatly when playing with friends (up to four players can play simultaneously), which can be played cooperatively or competitively and even supports online play.  Still, I almost would have rather had these characters and this story in a more traditional platformer setting than in a button mashing beat ‘em up.

Zombie Vikings is currently available for the PlayStation Network, with a physical “Ragnarok Edition” set to hit stores sometime this fall.

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