Back in the day when computer games were separated into VGA and SVGA, The Lost Vikings made its first appearance. Using a plethora of different keys, you alternated between three vikings who were abducted by aliens and put into a spaceship full of aliens, lasers, force fields and other futuristic contraptions. From the attitudes these guys exhibited trapped in a claustrophobic space ship, they would be the three modern guys looking for an exit out of the ship just because they were taken away from their Budweisers and needed to catch up on the next hockey game on ESPN.
These days, a single protagonist in a platform title is able to do a variety of moves. What's more, they can often change into different forms and do more moves, learn moves from enemies, gain experience, and improve on their existing faculties. That's the trend these days, but
The Lost Vikings is a game where the designer (the minds behind Blizzard before they got the letters R, T and S stuck in their head) thought it was a good idea to split the attributes amongst three different characters. Erik the Swift is your jumping character and is the most manoeuvrable amongst the lot. He takes care of all the platform jumping puzzles and the timing ones that require dexterity. He can only do damage on stationary walls, using his head as the battering ram. In the story, he also seems to take a leadership role over the other two. Then there's Baelog the Fierce, who is responsible for all the fighting. To do this, he's equipped with two weapons, a ranged bow and arrow, as well as the handy sword. His projectiles come in handy when disabling switches. Finally, there's Olaf the Stout, who carries a large shield. Obviously he can use the shield to block projectiles and provide safe passage for the other two, but he can also use the shield to glide (read: jump downward in a safe manner). Furthermore, he can use his shield as a stepping-stone for Erik to jump on.
The levels themselves are divided into puzzles where the application of one or more characters in sequence will often unlock the solution to the level. Switching between the characters is simple and handled smoothly. The left and right shoulder buttons will let you cycle between the characters. While the PC version used many controls on the keyboard, the Game Boy Advance has to do with less and it makes for a slight learning curve in the beginning.
That's alright though, since the game starts off relatively easy.
Often times, you'll only be using one character. In the subsequent levels, you might have to split up your party so that Olaf is holding down one quarter with his shield while Erik and Baelog go clean house behind him. Other stages will have your characters doing things in completely separate areas. The piece de resistance, however, is to have them working in concert in creative ways. The design challenges you to think of what each character does and how you can combine them to hit switches, unlock doors, disable force fields, slay aliens and destroy computers to exit your spaceship prison. In short, the design is intelligent. The layouts are often witty but they get vicious as the difficulty ramps up. Even solving them with trial and error is satisfying.
Unfortunately, the difficulty never lets up in the thirty-seven levels.
This makes it hard to pitch to the entire gaming demographic, especially the younger ones who may be turned off after the first lot. A quick save and load feature would have been a boon. Some other things I can think of that might make things easier would be a ghost mode after x or y number of tries to guide the player through.
Of course, the three vikings themselves would make prime candidates for a multiplayer option. I'm sure that passed through the minds of the developers more than once during the course of releasing The Lost
Vikings. Alas, it cannot be found and it makes it a more cocooned game than it has to be. Let us give credit that these types of games, which are half based on frustration, may be tough to cater to other people.
I'm reminded of Pyro Studios' Commandos, a game that has always had a multiplayer feature but people simply can't drop in and out of a game where the objectives and the method of achieving them must be so carefully orchestrated. Perhaps that, in the very end, influenced the final deliberation in the developers' minds, convincing them to omit it altogether. Some multiplayer-specific material, however, would have rectified that though.
While the soundtrack and effects are adequate, and the graphics are colorful, this is a game that wasn't terribly blockbuster ten years ago. Remarkably, its concept is still novel. As I mentioned before, in a day and age where we're seeing protagonists that increasingly do it all, it's nice to see a game where three characters are forced to act with one mind. When you weigh both ends of the equation, the beauty that appeals to the mind prevails over the beauty that appeals to the eye.