Vikings don't get old, they get ported to the GameBoy Advance.
The GameBoy Advance library is famous (or infamous, depending on your degree of gaming nostalgia) for its large number of Super NES ports. Yoshi's Island, Super Mario World, Super Ghouls and Ghosts - all SNES blockbusters that have migrated to Nintendo's handheld juggernaut. Now that it seems most classic titles from the early 90's have been ported, attention is turning to the lesser-known (but no less beloved) titles that rounded out Nintendo's 16-bit library. The Lost Vikings is one example. A groundbreaking puzzle-platformer at the time of its 1992 release, this not-so-harrowing tale of three stranded Norsemen has created many fans throughout the gaming world. Even after all this time, it proves that solid gameplay never goes out of style.
The concept of The Lost Vikings is simple; our heroes have been kidnapped by aliens, and the goal is to guide them to each level's exit so they can find their way home. Of course, there's a catch: each viking can only perform specific actions. Erik the Swift can run, jump and bash through walls, Baleog the Fierce can kill enemies with a sword or bow, and Olaf the Stout can block attacks and float through the air with his shield. Solving puzzles along the way requires you to use all of these abilities in one way or another. Each character can only absorb three hits from enemies (or one hit if they fall on spikes, lava, or water), but thankfully there are health and defense-boosting items that can be picked up and used when necessary. This straightforward design is perhaps the game's biggest strength. Almost anybody can pick up The Lost Vikings and understand what they have to do, making it accessible to old-school and new-school gamers alike. All of the puzzles make sense and can be figured out if given enough thought.
While the puzzles are clever, the control scheme used to solve them can be frustrating. You must move your vikings
one-by-one, an exasperatingly inefficient method for a game in which moving all three characters forward is a constant requirement. The ability to move them all at once would have sped things up considerably and made difficult areas
a lot less tedious. Controlling your characters could also be improved. Close quarters combat with Baleog is tricky; it's
often easier to hack wildly at enemies rather than strike with calculated blows, because it's hard to tell when you're going
to hit them. Jumping with Erik the Swift feels a little too loose, making it too easy to overshoot platforms and fall to your death. You'll definitely find yourself crying "Cheap!" a couple of times before it's all said and done.
And speaking of death, losing a character is an unnecessarily annoying experience. All three vikings must complete each level, so if one of them dies you might as well start the level over again. With this in mind, it would have made sense to automatically restart a level as soon as one of your vikings died. Instead, you're forced to press start, select "Yes" to quit, watch a short cut scene, and then select "Yes" again to restart the level. This sequence is maddening when you're dying over and over again, and it's definitely something that should have been addressed in the porting process.
Graphically, The Lost Vikings is what you'd expect from an early 16-bit title. There's a smattering of parallax scrolling and plenty of color, but the game's real graphical strength lies in its masterful character design. The vikings are drawn in
an exaggerated and cartoony style, imbued with lots of personality and plenty of humor. There's an amusing running commentary between them at the beginning and end of each level, and repeated failures prompt them to ridicule your poor
performance. Level music is upbeat and catchy, and the faux-hip-hop opening theme is unmistakably early 90's. The sound and
visuals won't blow you away, but any shortcomings are made up for by undeniable charm and wit.
There's no denying that The Lost Vikings is a classic. It's challenging and can be frustrating at times, but never so
frustrating that you won't come back to it. However, it really is the first iteration of its type of game, and because of that you'll encounter idiosyncrasies that have since been addressed in later titles in the genre. If you can overlook these shortcomings, The Lost Vikings is a simple and addictive game that's worthy of a rental.