RetRose Tinted is a regular feature of my Cblog, in which I re-examine games that we have fond memories of and see if they still hold up. If you have suggestions for titles to be featured in the future or ideas on how I can improve the column, please let me know.
The Lost Vikings, 1992 from Silicon & Synapse, published by Interplay
I come from a more innocent, pure time. A time before the rise of the MMORPG and its inevitable dominance by WoW, before Korean Starcraft tournaments, a time when nobody had ever heard of Blizzard Entertainment. In 1994 they would start a revolution in the RTS genre of gaming with the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. A couple of years before this, before they were even Blizzard (working under the name Silicon & Synapse), they developed what was one of my favorite titles for the Super Nintendo: The Lost Vikings.
When I moved from the east coast to Arizona at the age of ten, it was a bit of a culture shock and I had some difficulty making friends. One of the more unusual people I came to know was a veteran of the Vietnam war who, tragically, was handicapped during his time there. As a result, he spent a lot of time around the house, watching television and playing video games. He was like a big kid and we struck up a friendship that continues to this day. Lost Vikings was one of our favorite titles to play and I have many fond memories of sitting in his spare wheelchair, trying to solve level after level.
Erik the Swift is swift indeed.
The Lost Vikings is a 2D platforming puzzle game. The story follows three Vikings, Erik the Swift, Baleog the Fierce and Olaf the Stout, who have become lost in time and space after escaping from an evil alien species collector from the future. In the quest to return home, they must work together using their specialized skills to overcome various enemies and traps in the game's 37 levels.
Each Viking has their own abilities, completely separate from the others. Erik runs faster, rams his horned helmet into breakable walls and enemies and is the only Viking who can jump. Baleog is armed with a sword and has a bow and arrow which can be used both to shoot enemies and switches. Olaf bears a shield, which he uses to defend his brothers from attack, and (by holding it over his head) can use it to provide a platform for the others to stand on or to transport himself by gliding.
Environmental items must often be employed to finish levels.
Stages are broken up into themed worlds representing different places and times. The Vikings have to travel through prehistoric times, ancient egypt, a factory, a bizarre and deadly funhouse and their captor's spaceship before they can return home. Each world features its own specific environmental tools which must be used to solve its various puzzles, such as air pumps to inflate the Vikings and allow them to float upwards or large crane magnets for moving blocks (and Olaf). Levels will often require the Vikings to go their separate ways, taking different paths that only they can travel to reach the end and all three must survive in order for the game to progress. Once there, you're treated to a dialogue exchange between the characters which is often funny and occasionally points out some of the absurd conventions found in many video games of the time.
In addition to an assortment of keys that you'll often find to open doors and progress, levels have other powerups that the Vikings can use. Food items are scattered about that will restore one or two of a character's three health points and a shield icon will provide a bonus point of protection. There's also a smart bomb which kills all enemies on screen, which can be downright necessary in parts where the practically defenseless Erik must travel alone amongst many enemies.
Fail, and your brethren will be mourned in a traditional funeral.
As was common at the time, the game features a password system to resume play on specific levels. Thankfully, the developers decided to make them simple, four letter combinations of letters and numbers. The Lost Vikings also features co-op play, allowing two Vikings to be controlled at one time. Whenever they are separated, the screen splits, allowing each player to go their own way. This can an incredible benefit, as many of the puzzles can be made easier with someone to independently control another Viking. And, for that matter, it's really the reason to play at all. I love The Lost Vikings but, without another person to laugh at when they screw up something simple, it just isn't as much fun.
Fang and Scorch are added to the roster in Norse by Norsewest.
Two years after the release of The Lost Vikings, a sequel dropped. Lost Vikings 2: Norse By Norsewest follows a similar premise to the original but adds several new features in to the mix, including two new characters and a new requirement for each level which forces you to collect three specific items and take them to the exit before you can move on.
Each of the Vikings now have new abilities from parts they scavenge off a destroyed robot. Erik can now execute a double-jump and breathe under water. Baleog gets a robotic arm that he uses to grab distant items, attack enemies and swing from special orbs. Olaf gains the ability to fart on command, giving him additional lift for floating with his shield, and can shrink himself down to traverse small passages. The new characters also have abilities of their own, though they're mostly cobbled together from one or two of the Vikings. Fang, a werewolf, can slash with his claws (similar to Baleog's sword attack) and can climb walls by clinging to and jumping off of them. Scorch, a dragon, breathes fire and can fly for short distances (like Olaf's shield glide).
Ports of the series were made for several systems.
The original Lost Vikings game was swiftly ported from its SNES version to the Genesis and a few computing platforms. It was then re-released in 2003 by Blizzard in a port for the Game Boy Advance. Lost Vikings 2 was also ported, this time to PC, Saturn and PSOne but these ports are drastically different than the SNES release. On the other, more powerful platforms, the game was programmed by Beam Software and the decision was made to utilize the the additional resources of these devices to make the characters entirely CG (instead of sprite-based) and gave them voice-over speech. While this could have been great, it looks and sounds terrible. The characters have been made super-deformed and really stand out against the backgrounds, looking quite out of place. The voice acting is stilted and annoying, with an utter failure to come up with a decent accent.
All told, The Lost Vikings is game that has aged very well. The challenge of the levels is still present and the balance between the Viking abilities makes for fascinating play. It is no surprise that Blizzard went on to innovate an industry when you see a genesis like this.
Still a great game.
Fun Fact: The word "Viking" has been used twenty-five times in this post.