Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Lost Vikings (SNES, Genesis)

Interplay's "Lost Vikings" is one of those games that I heard about for YEARS before finally playing it. I'm serious. From 9th grade until I finally played it in senior year of high school I had my best friend, classmates, neighbors, Blockbuster employees, mail carriers, garbage men, and CPAs all tell me that I absolutely had to play this game. With all of that ridiculous hype, you would think I would either praise this game as God's gift to gamers or cast it into the fiery pits of gamer hell along with "Shaq-Fu" and "Dudes with Attitude."

Truth be told, it belongs in neither category - which is a good thing and a bad thing.

Let's start off with all of my personal, nitpicky complaints first - that way we can try and be objective about this whole thing. I have a love/hate relationship with these type of puzzle-formers. "Lemmings" is probably in my top 30 games of all time list - but after about an hour or so of watching those little green boogers explode into a pixelly mess or splat like raindrops from a tall platform - I want to throw my controller through the flatscreen. That being said, I have a lot of experience with these types of games. I have walked many a "Lemming", "Troddler", "Human", or even Krusty's very own "rats" to their early gaming graves - so sad to say, a game like Lost Vikings no longer has the fresh coat of originality it may have had back in '92. So is that a fault of developers Silicon & Synapse - the company who would later become the behemoth known as Blizzard? Well, no. Out of Troddlers, Humans, Lemmings, and Krusty's Fun House - only Lemmings predates Lost Vikings, so it isn't like this had become a glutted market yet. However, all of the other puzzle-formers came out the same year - so it's hard to compete when so many similar games come out at the same time.

Booooing! Hey, that block is supposed to be up here!

Out of that batch of games, Lost Vikings plays closest to "Humans" in that you switch between a handful of characters and combine their strengths to reach the goal, rather than controlling a few out of a much larger pack and just arranging the talents of a select few to get the whole tribe out of the exit. I know that sounded like the same thing twice, but anyone who's played these might know what I'm talking about. In easier terms - 3 Vikings enter, and if you did it right, 3 Vikings leave. In Lemmings, 40 Lemmings enter, you make a handful parachute down and create a bridge so that hopefully, 29 or better will leave.

Crispy fried Viking. I'm NO GOOD at this game...

Now that I've explained my personal bias against puzzle/platformers - let's discuss the myriad of things that Lost Vikings gets right. First, this is the kind of game that benefits greatly from having a partner or two. Vikings lets you have up to three players control Erik, Olaf, and Baleog through these spaceships, pyramids, etc. It is a game that controls pretty easily with one player - you hit the L & R buttons to switch between Vikings and move them into position. However, having two or three players cuts the time down tremendously and makes chores that require; for instance, Olaf to make his shield into a platform for Erik to jump upon, much easier. You still have to coordinate the strategy with your real life friends and keep them from jumping down pits or getting zapped by lasers, thus negating all of the planning you guys did - but that's all on you, buddy! It's nice every once in a while to find a game that allows you to have more than two players at a given time (provided you have a multi-tap.)

For the most part the graphics are pretty well done. Your Vikings are fun, colorful and expressive. Jump down a long pit and watch your the facial expressions your Vikings make! Hi - larious. Their hair flips through the air, they have clean and fluid animations whenever they are running, jumping, shooting arrows, and more. The backgrounds and level designs are a bit of another story. For the most part, levels are fairly bland and repetitive with the same few sprites repeating constantly. I'll admit though, it's very hard to make a spaceship look exciting and many other games have lamer level design and background graphics. The music is nice and funky. It has that early 90's hip-hop stank all over it, and you half expect M.C. Hammer to bust out or Vanilla Ice to bring his "Ninja Rap." While not quite as funky as a game like Toejam and Earl, the soundtrack is fun and works well. The sound effects leave something to be desired as there really aren't too many to speak of. That being said, the presentation of Lost Vikings is better than average.

An example of some of the sassy Viking humor you'll see!

Side Note: The screenshots provided are from the Super NES version. There is a slight difference between the SNES and Genesis versions graphically speaking (I would argue the Super NES one is more detailed) as is usually the case when games are ported across both systems.

The difficulty level is exactly as you would expect from a Puzzle/Platformer and is pretty typical of the genre. If you can get 100% of your Lemmings out alive in at least 25% of the levels in that game - you will probably smoke through Lost Vikings in a short weekend. Folks like me who are clumsy at these games will have considerably more trouble - especially once you have to rely on multiple Vikings simultaneously and you don't have a partner to back you up. You will die - constantly. Rumor has it that the Genesis version has more levels than the SNES version - which is good for you guys and gals who want even more of a challenge. The box boasts "over 40 rip-roaring levels." I can give you a guess as to how many I completed successfully in all of the times I've played this game, but let's just say I never saw my way out of that friggin' space ship.

A Viking's Funeral. Get used to seeing this cutscene...

Lost Vikings is an above average puzzleformer in a sea of similar games. The animations are smooth, the gameplay is top-notch among this genre of game, and there is plenty of challenge to be had here. It's a real treat to find 3 player games and this would definitely make for a fun party game (until one of your friends calls you a dirty name because you guys had to see the "Viking funeral" animation for the 400th time.) It's difficult, it's generally a fun time, and it's available for both the SNES and Genesis over at Lukie Games right freakin' now! Get over there!