So I have a project. This is the first in a series of reviews where there’s no outside internet access, no research. I can’t tell you that ICO is really just a really good remake of Casper or anything like that. This time it’s going to be oldschool, the way we used to play them in our frigid dens with our big gulps and Ruffles. No internet, no manual, this is a rental off the shelf.
The Lost Vikings is perfect. From concept through to execution, every step of the design just works. It’s semiotically intuitive; save for one or two power-ups, everything pretty much does what it says on the tin. Food heals, enemies hurt, terrain kills. The objective is simple, get from the beginning of the level to the end. Each viking has a set of abilities. Olaf (the fat one) has a shield that blocks near everything and can float slowly down with it. Erik, the one that looks like Asterix, can run really fast, jump, and ram obstacles with his helmet. The other guy (whose name I forget and is less stereotypically viking) hits guys. Here’s a level, solve the puzzle, rinse, repeat. You get into a groove of using one character to scout the surroundings and finish the puzzle, and thrown off when a new gameplay element enters.
In this way, the game is performative. You are a lost viking on a fucked up spaceship taken away from your family after a seemingly uneventful hunting trip. Every part of the game starts foreign to you with little introduction and the second you get a handle on your surroundings, the setting changes completely, everything you’ve worked out shifts. The puzzles work because they keep you puzzled, because everything is easy to understand but difficult to assemble into an overall whole.
Just by splitting the player’s capabilities between three actors the game does something innovative, forcing the player to use the different vikings in conjunction with each other. And come on, it’s fun. Vikings were, my understanding is, badass. They were warriors with long hair (which was definitely not the style at the time), and despite their contemporaries calling them ‘braids’ and ‘longie longhair’ and a series of other nonsensical but hair-related epithets, they raped and pillaged their way into our hearts. If there was some sort of historical badass hall of fame they would likely be in it. Also, they maybe discovered Newfoundland?
17 years after its creation, The Lost Vikings remains ridiculously original, an interesting and inspiring addition to a platform that was choked with a glut of terrible platformers and franchise titles.