Zombie Vikings is the sophomore effort from developer Zoink Games and is again profusely demonstrable of their distinct visual style and dedication to bizarre humor. In achieving this uniquely weird and fun tone that has quickly become their calling card, Zombie Vikings is supremely successful and it is only in the moment-to-moment gameplay that things begin to get a little more complicated.
Zombie Vikings sets the pace for irreverent silliness as soon as it opens with a slapstick scene where in the gods of viking lore get into a goofy tiff –Loki steals Odin’s eye after making fun of his glittery war staff and runs off with it, pretty much as a “just because he can” prank. Odin vows revenge and resurrects four truly unique “zombie vikings” each with their own twist; one is part octopus, another part crow, and another feels like a bomb-vomiting twist on Sonic the hedgehog. Odin explains that he needs them to go on an epic quest to retrieve his eye from Loki. The resurrected vikings are invigorated and speculate as to what the world-saving gravity of this quest is before Odin quickly crushes that dream and explains that he just really wants it back. He then tosses the foursome a set of keys to his longboat and they set off on a hack and slash adventure to find his eye.
This signature style of wacky tongue-in-cheek humor is ever present throughout the Zombie Vikings’ adventure and is no doubt where it shines most. It positively oozes that Zoink Games humor with everything from millennial cracks at Instagram and hash tags, to a large cat character who’s obsessed with cat pops — basically other cats tied to sticks — and it somehow continues to get weirder at every turn and never disappoints with each new character and cut scene.
The combat is a lot of what you would expect from the genre; an attack and signature attack that both have variations based on pressing, holding, or fully charging them, a block, roll, jump, and the ability to pick up and throw items or other characters. It’s simple and straight forward which can work well, but it all has a feel that was really difficult to wrap my head around. I’ll admit it comes together a little more as you play, but the two biggest issues for me were not enough combat feedback to understand what is happening and a confusing plane ambiguity. When you’re attacking or being attacked, there is no real visceral feedback. You can block (and even counter) attacks but the timing is tricky and even beyond that it’s just really difficult to understand where the hit boxes start and end — both on you and your enemies.
Unlike something like Little Big Planet where there are three distinct planes to shift between, Zombie Vikings has you playing anywhere among a large variety where you can move left and right, up and down, and even to other sections of each level with a great degree of freedom. This sounds great in theory, and all of the environments look great with that signature Zoink Games style bleeding out of every frame, but it is just immensely difficult to determine what can hit you and what can’t, and what’s within your attack’s range. This only gets more complicated with more people on screen, but the innate chaos of multiplayer makes it less difficult than managing combat by yourself.
Therein lies my biggest problem with such a decidedly humor-filled game with such an appealing style around every corner; it is infinitely better with the more people involved and much harder to enjoy by yourself. I unfortunately didn’t have anyone available to play the game with me for review and found its frustrating solo gameplay far outweighed its appealing personality. The humorous personality makes this a great game to cruise through for the story, trophies, and casual experience, but the combat didn’t appeal to me enough and was far too challenging solo to be fun. My lonesome friendless existence aside, thanks to either the matchmaking system or just not enough people looking for games, I was never really able to play multiplayer. I once waited 20 minutes for a coop game only to find one person who never hit ready after waiting another ten minutes. After two or three similar experiences, I finally found someone to play with and started losing interest after playing a few more levels.
Zombie Vikings stirs up that poignantly familiar feeling of wanting so badly to enjoy playing a game because of its high points, but not being able to push myself through the parts that don’t work. Yes, there were some really significant screen tearing and framerate issues at launch, but I can hardly blame developers for such issues with the way games are pushed into release dates today — especially since there have already been two patches for the game and I’ve noticed no technical issues since. The ability to customize your character’s build with unique weapons and runes is a great idea, especially when all of that humor extends to their descriptions and effects. However, I quickly found that there were always one or two of each category that far surpassed the benefits of every other, leaving me stuck with only those choices if I wanted to an advantage in gameplay.
A PS4 review code for Zombie Vikings was provided by Zoink Games for the purpose of this review