Zombie Vikings is Zoink Games’ second big console release, following on from 2013’s Stick It To The Man, and you can very quickly tell that the studio has once more gone for a stand out aesthetic as well as some incredibly bizarre humour. However, this is a very different type of game, as they dive into the beat ’em up genre, pitting four undead viking warriors against a host of enemies in a quest to retrieve Odin’s eye.
Loki, the dastardly god of mischief, manages to easily steal Odin’s eye and sets in motion a series of events that bring players in touch with various Norse myths and pop culture references. Gunborg, Seagurd, Hedgy and Caw-kaa are the four Viking adventurers at the heart of the game, with each character having their own abilities to use in a fight. Seagurd has a symbiotic relationship with a squid that can grab enemies as well as shoot poisonous ink, while Caw-kaa can use her wings for dive attacks, Guborg can explode, and Hedgy can throw up skeleton heads that can be used as bombs.
Each moves differently in combat due to their size and skills, with the small Hedgy being very fast while Gunborg is more like a tank. You’ll naturally start to gravitate to whichever character you prefer playing as, but there are levels within the game where you have to use a certain character. In a way, it’s good that if pushes you to learn about their different abilities, but if you’ve already experimented and found a character isn’t for you, being forced to play as them can be a bit frustrating.
Combat can feel a bit hit and miss at first, and it takes a little bit of time to get used to the lack of real feedback. You have to learn to look for the telltale flash of an enemy as your hits land, and vice versa as pain is inflicted upon your zombie protagonist of choice. Once you get used to the style, fighting comes together nicely as you learn the best uses for the regular and special attacks, both of which can be charged for even more powerful moves.
It is the weaponry and the runes that really dictate how a fight will go, though even here you will find comedy. Each weapon is unique in design, ranging from standard swords to a cat tied to a stick that will occasionally scratch those you hit with it. You can earn gold as you play, to spend in the weapon and runes store to unlock items, though completing side quests will also net you new weapons.
Though it’s still enjoyable in single player, it is in multiplayer where things really become interesting. Zombie Vikings’ multiplayer in the story is both cooperative and competitive at the same time. Obviously you’ll need to work with your fellow zombies to kill everything that gets in your way, but you also want to gain the most loot for bragging rights at the end of each level. That’s not all though, as when a new weapon is rewarded from completing a task, not everyone will get it. Instead players have to fight each other or race to an objective and win to obtain the reward, changing the dynamic of the relationships from partnership to nemesis in seconds. These aren’t brand new ideas within the beat ’em up genre, but add a little spice to the action compared to solo play.
In fact Zombie Vikings is definitely been made with multiplayer in mind considering the extra things that make themselves known, like the reward combat, only in that situation. Even some of the dialogue during the gameplay references the group, even as you play alone. That isn’t to say Zombie Vikings is dull solo – far from it – but there is so much more fun to be had when others join the undead fray. The game has a separate versus mode too, where you can fight against other players to your heart’s content.
The game’s visual style retains a cartoonish look that’s similar to Stick It To The Man, with Zoink perhaps the only studio to have embraced this particular aesthetic so wholeheartedly. The areas that the zombies travel through have been very well crafted and all have their own unique style to them. They lend a lovely backdrop to Zombie Vikings’ humour which, as mentioned, is quite reliant on pop culture though some jokes are great even without context. While the zombies have funny situations, I found it was the mishaps Loki found himself in that tickled me the most.
At launch, Zombie Vikings has suffered with a handful of issues, from frame rate drops to characters clipping through the environment. However, it’s worth noting that in the week since release, Zoink have already released two patches to counter these problems and appear to have fixed the majority of the issues. A third patch is to be available soon to address any final problems.
Zombie Vikings is a fun beat ’em up that has some excellent moments of humour, with distinct feeling playable characters and a moderate level of difficulty. While the single-player alone is good, the multiplayer is where Zombie Vikings truly stands out. Zoink Games have shown once again why it is a studio worth keeping an eye on.
Version tested: PlayStation 4