Concepts for videogames are wonderful things; they can be as esoteric as some crazed Japanese developer’s haiku pitch or as consumable as the next yearly iteration of Sports Franchise XX. One thing they should all have in common is that the concept should be the purest, most positive phase of development. It should reek of positivity and ooze fun from its pores, existing only to excite others in the potential held within. Sometimes there exists a concept so amazing, so genius, that it simply has to be made, regardless of whether you are a two man show or a multinational. I’m going to let you in on such a concept now – Vikings. Invading 1970s Britain. Wow.
Picked yourself up off the floor yet? Great. When Vikings Attack takes that concept, wraps it in some simple paper and then throws it at you in a pure, cel-shaded kind of way. Developed by the self-proclaimed ‘tiny’ Clever Beans studio When Vikings Attack is a great example of the kind of product a small studio can develop, but limitations do shine through. The cross-buy and cross-play functionality lets you buy it once and then play on either PS3 or Vita and it’s great to see these initiatives being picked up by PSN offerings. It is, in essence, an arcade attack game that pits opposing sides against each other and asks them to throw the urban detritus of 1970s Britain at each other. Fantastic huh?
Your first port of call will probably be Quest mode, within which you control a group of civilians through fifteen levels as they try to repel the Viking invasion. The controls are simplicity itself – left analogue moves your group and to pick up any throwable object you just run your group into it. Once you’ve picked something up (and these items can be anything ranging from a traffic cone to a packaged cow) you can throw it at your enemies with the Square button. Spamming the shoulder buttons (or R1 and L1 on the main console) allows you to spin your object before throwing it, while X provides the strategically essential dash feature. Not only does dash propel you a short way in your direction of movement it also allows you to catch incoming (non-spun) objects, or even to steal objects from any other group you dash into.
Obviously, when thrown items hit a group any group members smacked by the item will be put out of commission. This gives an edge to the larger items as it is really quite conceivable that you will be able to take out entire groups of Vikings with just one Post Box or giant decorative sauce bottle (no, really). The flipside, however, is that to pick up the larger objects you will need a larger group of civilians, and larger groups not only present larger targets to your foes but also move more slowly than smaller groups. All is not lost however as there are special civilians (identified by an icon above their head) that can join your group and give various bonuses while still active – nab one that increases your speed and you can be jogging around lobbing stuff with a large group as fast as any small one.
The Quest levels are well balanced throughout for a first run, seamlessly increasing in difficulty as you process new concepts and gain in skill. However, even though they provide three challenges and unlockable civilians in an attempt to boost replayability, there is very little joy to be found in revisiting most of the levels as you will outskill the AI by such vast amounts. When Vikings Attack! does offer you the chance to play through the levels cooperatively in either a Public or Private manner but it’s far more likely that any online community the game builds will be based around its multiplayer vs options.
In fact, in a decent multiplayer group, the game shines. Equally skilled opponents can take the basic mechanics of the game and fuse them into an amazing skill driven twitch dancefest. While rounds can be won in seconds, with a balanced battle it’s far more common to see items thrown, caught and returned many times over, with the action becoming even more frenetic (and the skill even more impressive) when each group is throwing their own item rather than simply exchanging the same one. Each of the three multiplayer modes, Last Man Standing, Vikings vs Vigilantes and Gold Rush has something to offer, although it’s likely you will spend most of your time in either the all-against-all arena of Last Man Standing. As an objective based game Gold Rush is more confusing than engaging and it’s all too common for people to drop out before it is anywhere near completed.
Thankfully both the later Quest maps and most of the multiplayer ones offer additional scenery interaction to increase the random fun factor; you can bounce thrown items off of various bits of the scenery, thus setting up crazed bouncing objects to hit anyone that’s a little too mobile. Certain levels give you pipes that can warp your item to the other side of the screen, and there is nothing more satisfying than hitting a turtling group with a bomb to the back after it’s warped through a pipe. Indeed, both normal bombs (bang) and Vigone bombs (which convert anyone they hit to your group) add an additional layer of complexity to proceedings – not only is it awesome fun to blow people up, it’s also great to lob an object at another team as they throw a bomb at you, which almost certainly sees them knocked flat due to the splash damage.
When Vikings Attack! is not without limitations however, and some of them certainly cheapen the product. While the odd bit of multiplayer lag is frustrating, it is also forgivable when it doesn’t happen very often and is probably due to the host having a naff connection. What galls though are features such as after playing offline on the Vita for your first games when you first manage to log into the PSN cross-save will ask you if you want to wipe your save to enable it – there is no reason why a warning message couldn’t have popped up when you played offline. Some of the out-of-the-gameplay menus feel a little cheap, with some of the civilian graphics reminiscent of the PS1 title Constructor. Finally, some rare terrain edges can be seen as you play through Quest mode, but they are so few and far between it feels a little wrong to draw too much attention to them.
Ultimately When Vikings Attack is a great example of a single mechanic game, and how long you end up spending with it depends on how many times you can use that mechanic before you feel the need to move on. Played online with friends (or half decent strangers) the game takes on a whole new appeal, the quick fire rounds allowing you to showcase skill in gameplay that manages to provide both tense and laugh out loud moments. Small touches, such as unique throwing items like a full tier wedding cake or a giant shark, will consistently bring a smile to your face, while the Northern heritage of the game shines through in the regional accents and dialogue heard whenever a civvie joins your group. It’s not perfect and in places could be prettier, but When Vikings Attack! is well worth checking out, if only to say that at one point in your life you have defeated a giant group of Scandinavians with nothing more than a disco ball.