One of the best parts of being a game journalist is that sometimes you get to be genuinely surprised. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are plenty of games that I might not have ever played without this career, and I’d have been missing out if I’d never been exposed to them. Zombie Vikings is one of those games, and though it won’t win any Game of the Year awards, it’s a funny little co-op hack-and-slash with challenge, plenty to unlock and only some small technical issues.
Zoink! Games released last year’s “Stick it to the Man!” to great applause, and this year’s Zombie Vikings is another title out of the Sweden-based Zoink Games. Playing as either squid-zombie hybrid Sigurd, raised-by-crows Caw-Kaa, the rather…energetic and frantic Hedgy, or lady-yet-lumberjackesque Gunborg, you’ll travel through the various realms of Valhalla chasing after Loki. Loki’s stolen Odin’s eye, and…well, that’s all there is to it. Odin wants it back, so he summons four zombie heroes to track it down. There are plenty of bizarre and random monsters to take on: over-sized maggots, angry villagers, walking kettles that spit sticky goo, and warrior squids are just a few of the foes you’ll fell on the quest for the eye. The world of Valhalla in Zombie Vikings is a bizarre, almost creepy one, but it fits the tone of the action well: imagine a bizarre, viking-themed Halloween and there you have it.
Perhaps it’s because the name “Zombie Vikings” encouraged me to set the bar a bit low (I hope the next project gets a more compelling name), I ended up really surprised and happy with much of the game. I tend to think there’s a special spot in hell for the 2.5D hack-and-slash (Battletoads included) because frequently the level design doesn’t give me a reason to really appreciate the additional movement, but Zombie Vikings takes 2D side-scrolling and gives the levels depth with branching paths and detailed artwork. The dark, cartoony feeling reminds me a bit of a mix between Spongebob Squarepants and Invader Zim, and the humor tends to run on the same par. I actually found myself laughing out loud at many of the jokes, with topics ranging from one-sided relationships to awkward come-ons, as well as, of course, brains. It’s a decent mix of writing, and it feels like a good time taking it all in.
The actual action in Zombie Vikings feels solidly built, though it’s got some bug issues here and there. The game featured a rough, buggy initial release (which the team talks about on its blog); it’s since received patches and updates, making the current version more playable and stable. Hit detection feels accurate without letting you swing too wide, and each zombie has its own special move set that works well within the context of the game. Still, not everything is perfect: those who are a fan of using the PS4 Share feature will be unhappy to know that gameplay doesn’t freeze while the PS4 Share menu is open, leaving you open to all sorts of catastrophe while taking screenshots or posting gameplay vids.
Also, the camera had trouble tracking my character if it fell behind where the camera anticipated; being to the left of the anticipated action would result in me being permanently off-screen if I couldn’t blindly make my way back to the fray. During most of the direct gameplay, though, slaying antagonists with clubs, swords, cats tied to sticks, and more, was pretty entertaining.
I really hope that more people get exposure to Zombie Vikings, because it really is a treat to play. True, there’s some blemishes here and there, but so does every zombie…the fact that developer Zoink! was able to smooth things over so quickly to get the game up to par shows a real commitment to bringing this macabre mash-up back to life. Those looking for a real hack ‘n slash treat with plenty of fun gameplay on tap should definitely take notice.