If you entered an arcade in the early 90s, you would without a doubt see cabinets containing different brawlers. From Final Fight to Captain Commando there was always another game waiting to take your quarters. If any genre went down with the death of arcades, it was the beat-’em-up as it became difficult for publishers to sell these experiences at retail. Thankfully, the genre’s absence from gaming consoles was short lived as digital distribution has opened up the possibility for new brawlers at an affordable price point.
The latest game in the beat-’em-up resurrection is Zoink Games’ Zombie Vikings. Sporting beautiful artwork and a fantastic Norse theme, it ends up being very impressive straight from the start. Well, that is if you have the latest patch installed, at least. Otherwise, it’s a complete mess.
The launch of Zombie Vikings should be used as a cautionary tale in the future. A game only has one chance to make a good first impression with gamers, and Zoink Games’ latest fell right on its face. The brawler had a frame-rate that constantly chugged, constant screen tearing, and many glitches. The good news is that with the latest patch, version 1.02, Zombie Vikings is very close to realizing its potential. There are still a few rough edges, but the frame-rate and screen tearing issues are gone.
While it’s great that the game was fixed in a timely manner, you still can’t really give a developer praise for fixing a problem that they made in the first place. If one were to say that Zombie Vikings was dead on arrival, then Zoink Games have done a good job of quickly resurrecting it. Because in its current state the game is a lot of fun.
Zombie Vikings supports up to four players throughout its 25+ stage story that has the undead gang collecting Odin’s eye back from the trickster Loki. Each player has to select a different character, but all four of the initial characters are all fun to play as. Combat is on the simple side as you only use two buttons to attack. The square button will unleash a standard combo attack, while triangle will unleash your character’s special. Both of these can be charged in order to unleash an even more powerful attack.
About 80% into the game a fifth character will join the playable roster called The Stranger. This gunslinging skeleton ended up being my favorite character to play as, so it was a bit disappointing to only get to play him for the final handful of stages. That said, the fifth character can be used on any replayed level after he’s unlocked.
For the most part, Zombie Vikings is your typical brawler. You’re fighting off wave after wave of enemies, constantly mashing the square button. The combat feels solid, but starts to feel repetitive later on. There are some advanced maneuvers, such as throwing enemies, but these are rarely needed with how easy the overall experience was.
Many of the game’s levels will have hidden side-quests in them. These quests will find your zombie gang helping out other people, and these show off a bit more of the game’s creativity than the normal game. Completing these optional objectives will get you rewarded with either a new weapon or a rune (which adds modifiers to your character) to use.
It quickly became apparent that the added swords and runes weren’t worth the hassle to unlock, as the most effective setup can be purchased (using in-game currency) early on. Once I was armed with a sword that healed me by damaging enemies, and a rune that slowly regenerated my health, I only ended up dying twice during the entire game. While I would not recommend Zombie Vikings as a single-player game, it is totally possible to beat with the right rune and weapon setup.
Where I ended up dying was on two of the last couple of boss battles. As with any good brawler, Zombie Vikings features plenty of fun boss battles to cap off sections of the game. These boss battles usually take some strategy from the player, but only the final battle had a real puzzle solving element to it. If the rest of the game required as much thought from the player as the final boss fight, then this could have been a much better game.
Where Zombie Vikings does manage to stand out from the rest of the dated genre is in its storytelling. Zoink Games have crafted another laugh out loud funny game. It features the same type of humor that their last game, Stick it to The Man, was filled with. Even if the gameplay gets overly dull near the end of the game, you’ll still want to continue on to see the story wrap up.
One other area where Zoink Games did a solid job in was adding levels that felt completely different from the standard brawling affair. These levels largely consisted of either running away from gigantic enemies, or playing a soccer-style sports game. These were not often enough, as the game did start to wear thin by the end, but they were nice diversions when they happened.
Rounding out the package in Zombie Vikings is a competitive multiplayer mode. It’s fun for a few minutes, but the game was not designed to be a fighting game and it shows. I checked out all of the multiplayer stages, one of which is the soccer-style game that I mentioned earlier, and felt okay with never touching this mode again. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t much fun either.
If you have friends to play with then Zombie Vikings will be a fun way to spend a couple days with them. Otherwise, it’s a brawler with a lot of heart, but not enough variety. Zoink Games may have not struck gold with their initial outing into the brawler genre, but there is a lot of potential waiting to be fulfilled. Hopefully, we’ll see a sequel that manages to fully reinvigorate the beat ’em up genre.
Review code for Zombie Vikings provided by publisher. Version 1.02 was reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here