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LK4O4 avatar 2:00 PM on 04.22.2010
The Calculated Madness That Is "The Lost Vikings"

Posted by: Ryan


"I really appreciate that you still go out and buy new games for the Genesis," my sister told me. I'm probably the only person she knows who goes out of his way to buy retro games, although I'll admit that part of it is due to my lack of money. I bought The Lost Vikings as a bare Genesis cartridge for only $4.





...and I apparently had no idea what I was getting into. The Lost Vikings is so much more than I expected it to be. It's kind of a puzzle game and kind of a platform game, but it's one of the most completely maddening games I've played in a long time. Here's why:

Death is Painful

The last post I wrote for Destructoid was a long dissection of Mega Man 10. Now my girlfriend can't even beat one stage in Mega Man 9, and I know that there are a lot of people like her who think that the Mega Man games are hard and it's not fun to die over and over. Those kinds of people should probably stay away from The Lost Vikings: a death in The Lost Vikings is at least twice as soul-crushing as dying in Mega Man.

In The Lost Vikings, you control three separate vikings, one at a time, each with their own abilities. Erik the Swift can run and jump, Baleog the Fierce can attack enemies and shoot arrows, and Olaf the Stout can block with his shield or hold his shield over his head to glide. Oh, and his shield can also become a platform for Erik to jump on. Only one of the characters can jump, yet you lose unless you can get all three characters to the end. In Mega Man, you jump over a pit, you jump over some bullets, and you shoot a few enemies to get to the other side. In The Lost Vikings, you have to move Olaf in front so that he blocks a laser robot with his shield, then Baleog can shoot arrows from behind him to kill the robot. Then Erik can jump over a pit and hit a switch to put down a bridge for the other two to walk across.

In case you haven't gotten the point by the amount of words I've had to use just describing it, getting across the room in a Mega Man game uses far less time and brain power than getting across the room in The Lost Vikings. Which means that when you make a mistake and you die, it feels that much worse. This is a beautifully discouraging game.

Addiction is Even More Painful

However, this is one of the few puzzle-platform games that manages to have a linear, go-here-do-this style, which means that the levels never feel like they're impossible. These levels are actually damned brilliant in their design most of the time. Almost two years ago, I downloaded Toki Tori for Wii, but I never finished it because towards the end, the puzzles are incredibly intimidating. When I start a level and there are too many switches and levers, it's paralyzing: "Where do I even start?"





The Lost Vikings, through some variation of voodoo magic manages to avoid this problem, and everything happens in a way that makes sense. And because the levels are just complicated enough that you can still comprehend them, they stick in your mind. When a level would get really hard and I inevitably turned the game off, I would find myself still thinking about the game again less than two hours later. Some mornings, I'll wake up with an urge to play it. If I play it for another hour before work, I know I can beat that level I was stuck on yesterday.

After which I wind up dying eight painful times in a row before I head off to work.

Execution is the Way Out

You would think that a game where almost all of the puzzles are comprehendible would lead to really easy puzzles, but I assure you this is not the case. That's mostly because of the execution: if you mis-time a jump, your current viking will take some damage. If you land on a spike or touch an electric beam, your viking will immediately die, meaning that you lose the level.

Between fighting sinusoidal flying enemies with Baleog, platforming with Erik (and with all three vikings to some extent), and accidentally trapping a viking in an impossible-to-get-out situation, there are a lot of ways to lose a level.

Though strangely enough, the game makes you restart the level yourself even when you've killed off one of the vikings, rendering it impossible to finish the level. On the three-button Genesis controller, you have to press Start+A—which is an awkward button combination—to bring up the option to restart the level. And I have to do this almost every time that I've irreparably fucked myself over in a level.





Out of Control

And speaking of the button combinations, fitting The Lost Vikings onto a three-button control scheme has led to some awkwardness. Each viking already uses three buttons for their actions, meaning that everything else is done with combinations of buttons. To switch between the three vikings, you have to hold Start and press Left or Right. To use an item, you have to press Start+C. It's really janky, but I was surprised at how easily my hands adapted to the game's weird control scheme, with the exception of an occasional accidental character switch while I tried to use an item... usually at a crucial moment, leading to another painful viking death, which then meant that I had to press Start+A to manually restart the entire level.

Okay, the controls definitely have some problems.

On top of that, the game has some weird occasional edge cases too. Erik jumps ever-so-slightly higher when he's running, and there are one or two platforms that he just barely can't make it, but he actually can make it if you build him up to some arbitrary running speed. In a normal game, it wouldn't be too difficult to let something like that slide, but this isn't any game. This is a game where any accidental death makes you start the entire level over again. And the rest of the design is so cleverly done that any inconsistencies really stand out.

But in spite of everything, I keep coming back to it. It's all part of the calculated madness that is The Lost Vikings. I start thinking about it, and soon after, I want to play that level again. Just watch, I know I can beat it this time.


*Images from http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/games/legacy/index.html

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