I admit, I have a strong affinity for solid couch co-op experiences. The face-to-face social setting and a common goal to kick digitized enemy anus (and the right amount of cold beers) is the perfect “Sunday afternoon” PC gaming experience for me. PC games that work seamlessly with four controllers are the minority, but will end up being the kind of games that dominate that particular social gaming craving for months. Zombie Vikings arrived with a smirk, and has already pushed most of my couch games out of the Steam Big Picture… picture. It has quickly become the new favorite living room game at the Espada household. Not an easy task to do, as I have a posse of high level and devoted Castle Crasher fans to contend with.
Somewhere out there, I am sure of it, there is an unbreakable law that states if you design a video game about zombies that are also Viking warriors, then under no circumstances are you allowed to take yourself seriously. Don’t Google this, just have total faith in what I’m saying for now, this is the way of things. Fortunately, the developers agree with this natural order, and from the opening moments the comedic flavors and hearty jabs come fast and hard and don’t let up. There’s a never-ending number of gags and jokes as you delve deeper, with some honest laugh out loud moments.
You play as one of four undead Viking warriors, each brought back for one important and crucial purpose- to take back Odin The Allfather’s eye from his son, Loki. There is Gunborg, the hearty and sinewy viking shieldmaiden. Seaguard, the half octopus, half viking, … well all zombie stalwart defender. The floaty but feisty Caw Kaa, with her distinguished feathery shoulder pads and higher movement speeds. Last but not least, is the diminutive Hedgy, who’s bark is as bad as his bite and not someone to be underestimated. Together this band of unlikely heroes will cross paths with druids, giant earthworms, bandits, and cannon firing piglets as they search for lost eyeballs, lost brains, and even lost stinky “cats”.
This zany and silly comical story rises to life with its distinctive look. The art design appears to be dabbed in watercolor but using palette of colors to suggest an element of dire grimness. All visual aspects have a macabre and grotesque form, which is by design. Yet despite that, Zombie Vikings exudes charm with its ominous displays, it will have you grinning from ear to ear quite often. Take, for example, my favorite character in the bunch, Gunborg. She’s a beastly damage soaking femme fatale, her two armor plates that cover her zombie mammaries are the size of truck tires. Her shoulders are so overwrought with muscles that her arms stay locked up at 90 degree angles from her torso. Red eyes offset her naturally pink ponytails and gloomy greenish-gray dead skin tones. Gunborg’s mouth literally cuts across her entire face, exposing her lovely nubby teeth. Like all pretty princesses, she wears her distinct nordic tiara proudly: the skull of a unicorn. Yet she skips around levels like a bunny rabbit made of cotton candy, without a care in the world, gingerly tickling enemies on the insides of their ears with her spiked broadsword. It’s disgustingly wonderful.
The opening story, off the wall characters, intermixed gags, and batty art design leaves no doubt as to the kind of rib tickling adventure you are in for. Yet it’s the gameplay that will keep you, and your friends, hooked. As a brawler, Zombie Vikings handles very well. I tested this game on Steam’s controller extensively, and loved it. I enjoyed using the right surface for quick dodges and escapes. Aside from pelting enemies with your basic attacks, there are character-specific special moves. These moves can either be charged up for one big super move with devastating results, or tapped briefly to roll out a useful utility maneuver. Tapping the special action may drop bone-y totems, or grapple your way towards enemies, its worth experimenting with each. Charged up special moves are higher damage area of effect attacks like Seaguard’s tentacle attack, or Caw Kaa’s aerial divebomb.
Aside from straight damage attacks there is also the standard grab option, with a little twist. You can scoop up enemies with your weapon and throw them at other foes, but you can also do the same with your friends. This can often lead to some humorous outcomes, as you toss them wherever you’d like. As I played with GWTW Editor, Zach Turnbull, I couldn’t help but forcing my sword up his Hedgy’s butt and chucking him behind enemy lines (often)[Ed. Note: Gunborg’s special op. Please nerf.]. That’s what he gets for enforcing all of these “deadlines”, am I righ t?
Some games have “the magic”, and by that I mean put Zombie Vikings on the TV, then leave 3 other controllers lying around. It will be minutes before someone will jump on and start playing with you. It doesn’t take long to start busting heads and cracking open loot chests. Quick and easy four player fun. As a matter of fact that is exactly what happened in my case. I was replaying a section of Vikings, taking notes on the ridiculous plot lines, when one of my own kids just walked up and grabbed a controller and joined me. They had two friends over who dropped what they were doing and jumped on. Next thing I know I had 10 people in my living room, parents, other neighborhood kids, and my four year old, all battling over who-gets-next turns. That kind of instant appeal is hard to ignore.
Where this game losses a little ground is in its depth; here isn’t much there. There is the search for better equipment, although most weapons just seem to be slight numerical increments over the last in terms of damage. Loot chests are not divided evenly, which is a bigger annoyance than I realized until after several levels had gone by. Say you were busy being the loyal warrior, taking down enemies and saving your friends, focusing on enemies and solving puzzles. But LooLoo the idiot neighbor boy, has decided that bashing eyeball stealing bandits isn’t his thing and is raiding chests instead. Well, you will be a hero, and very victorious, but also broke in the end. Meanwhile LooLoo will be sporting a brand new +10 Something Rune of Whatever.
There is DLC available for Zombie Vikings, but at this time it only consists of two new playable characters at $3 each. Their value seems minimal, as again this doesn’t deepen or expand the overall experience. There will be a new free playable character coming, Raz, Psychonauts 2’s main character, and it will be released for free. Hopefully more campaigns will grace this game in the future and not just playable characters. There is potential to expand these adventures further, and the fact I’m already thinking of “more” is a good thing.
Regardless of its shallow and uncomplicated arcade-like design, as soon as those jazzy tunes and Gunborg’s exploding bubbly guts are all over the place, I can’t help but start smiling. It never fails that a few friends and family jump in as well. It’s just a fun game. It can be enjoyable alone, but Zombie Vikings forces one to make social contact with other humans, buy some extra controllers, and invite people over for a few laughs and steal each others gold. This game has taken tips and cues from older four player couch games. It has included many elements that are known to work well, and developer Zoink Games has infused this game with offbeat charisma and fluid gameplay it tops most titles in its genre, with ease. This is a must buy for all brawler, adventure, and coop fans. This is the type of game you use to show off Steam’s Big Picture mode, and how PC’s can be just as versatile a platform for social gaming.