So, three Vikings getting kidnapped sounds a little bit like the beginning to what could potentially be a funny as hell joke, unfortunately it is anything but if you’re looking for gameplay that will kick your ass and leave a smile on your face. Such is the case with Lost Vikings, a Sega Genesis title created in 1992 by Silicon & Synapse, a relatively obscure software developer at the time. While they would eventually go on to lead a modicum of success thanks to hit titles as Diablo, Warcraft and Starcraft – this was one of the early stones for Blizzard Entertainment.
And despite it being one of their earliest attempts at creating a game, it is, for all intents and purposes hard as any Blizzard game could be while having their signature style brought to the table. While the games the developer creates now hasn’t altered too much in the last two decades on the most elementary conceptual scale – Lost Vikings serves more or less as a ‘missing link’ between their earlier titles and later titles.
After all, if you glance at what the company produced prior to their three perennial series, you get a clear picture of when Blizzard was still looking for their niche and when they actually found it. Prior to Lost Vikings were hapless titles like Amiga ports of Lord of the Rings, Battle Chess and Dvorak on Typing – definitely nothing anyone who knows the of the Blizzard today would recognize in the least. However, after the release of Lost Vikings in 1992, not only was all of their works original creations, but gave way to the three series that define the game developer as we know them today.
Digressively though, Lost Vikings is best described as a side-scrolling platform puzzler designed to make the players think as much as possible about how to get from point A to point B and if you’re lucky enough on to point C. This is achieved interestingly by compartmentalizing the abilities of one normal video game hero into the embodiment of three. So, instead of having one character that is capable of running fast, jumping high, blocking, sword slashing and shooting arrows – you’re forced to use three Vikings who are all masters of their respective abilities, but undoubtedly forced to rely on each other for the sake of surviving the circumstances that have been thrust upon them.
The first of the Vikings is Erik the Swift, a fast runner who possesses a fleet of foot that is capable of carrying him like the wind in relative comparison to his to compatriots. He is also the only one of the three Vikings who has the ability to jump along with knocking down walls by bashing his head into them while running at full force. Baleog the Fierce is the warrior of the three who has been endowed with a fighting spirit that allows him to fire arrows, swing his sword and generally kick a metric ton of ass in the name of Odin, Thor and any other of the Norse Gods that I may have forgotten but are nonetheless awesome. Last but not least, there is Olaf the Stout, the shield bearer of the three who is able to defend his two cohorts from any onslaughts thanks to his defensive gear which also functions as a hang glider in a pinch. Cliché as it might sound, but with their power combined – they make a pretty badass team of Vikings.
The three Vikings have been kidnapped by the evil Tomator, evil and vile emperor of the Croutonians and it is naturally up to the player to guide the three back safely to their small village on Earth so they might once more rape, pillage and murder as Vikings are wont to do. However, during their escape attempt, they become lost in a various periods of time that coincidentally has nothing to do with going eighty-eight miles per hour. However, it’s in the reliance of the player to control not one but three separate characters that makes Lost Vikings stand out so much, even when compared to contemporary titles.
Utterly, there isn’t anything in the game that hasn’t been seen in several other platforming titles – but the fact that it must be accomplished in order using the three Vikings is where the game derives a great deal of it’s challenge. For instance, you’ll be faced with a scenario that might include using Erik to bash his head into a wall while Baleog lines up a shot with an arrow while standing behind Olaf so nothing is able to kill him. And as easy as you think that would be, it really isn’t.
Sure, the game gives each Viking three minor hits, but if you take one major hit, well it’s off to Valhalla for the brave warriors. And unsurprisingly, that happens a lot more than one would usually anticipate it occurring. Frustratingly enough, it isn’t the puzzle elements about the game that make it difficult or even lacking enjoyment – it’s making the three Vikings do what you want them to when you need to it occur as expediently as possible.
But, with the archaic control setup, it’s no doubt that the game comes off as needlessly complex. A lot of the more advanced movements, such as using items in the inventory or swapping between the Vikings requires A + Start or C + Start to get them accomplished and that is where the game transcends fun and happily kicks you in the face before dumping a vat of scalding KFC gravy on you – because getting something done in a game shouldn’t require a movement that can be left up to chance – especially when gamers back then as well as now rationalize the ‘Start’ button with pausing as opposed to getting anything done.
Not saying this makes the game bad by any stretch of the imagination, however, it certainly sucks a lot of the potential fun out of the game by utilizing a control scheme that more often than not will piss even the most sensible of gamers off – namely me. But that doesn’t mean Lost Vikings is worth resting in the discard pile for the rest of eternity, merely that it has been surpassed by games and technology that are able to utilize its underlying concepts to create a significantly more fluid and enjoyable experience.
If nothing else, it’s always going to be fun to look back at Lost Vikings and remember that this was the first game Blizzard made that wasn’t just a port or someone else’s idea – it was their first step towards a future where they would spend many, many years at a time creating games that we all want to play, yet incessantly bitch about them when we can’t. Nevertheless, none can fault Blizzard for their current design creed of games being “done when they’re done” – although, I’m forever thankful that they decided to move onto RTS and MMO games as opposed to sticking with Platformers and Puzzlers.
And yes, this article stems from the fact that I’m now wildly addicted to Starcraft 2.