At first glance, beat 'em up Viking Squad is reminiscent of the genre's modern standard bearer Castle Crashers. Give it some time, though, and you'll see just how different the game can be. There are familiar elements, such as cooperative play, characters with signature attacks, gathering weapons, buying items with found gold, and humor to be found within, but the similarities end there. Viking Squad is truly its own beast, and that beast isn’t easily conquered.
Viking Squad plays like a standard beat ‘em up, but with some distinctions. You have the option to choose from one of four characters, each with their own signature weapon. The blue Viking has a sword and shield and can block enemy attacks. The orange Viking wields twin axes and attacks quickly. The green Viking dishes out strong attacks with her hammer. The purple Viking gets access to ranged attacks via his bow. Each Viking has a unique Rune Power as well, which is essentially a heavy attack that needs to be recharged. Additionally, the Vikings have unique Valor Attacks, which are super moves that hit every enemy on-screen. Valor Attacks require four Valor Charges to perform, which can be found as a loot drop, or purchased with gold. The characters all approach combat differently, which means choosing the right Viking to fit your playstyle is essential to how you play the game.
The most defining feature of Viking Squad, as a beat ‘em up is the addition of lane mechanics. Vertical movement is limited to one of four lanes, which is strange at first but grows on you. Gone are any frustrations of not being in the right place on the vertical axis, making your movement feel more accurate. Jumping across the lanes even feels smooth and natural. Playing another sidescrolling beat ‘em up after Viking Squad felt less precise, and I found myself ultimately preferring the lane-based movement.
The plot is simple—your team of Vikings must stop the trickster god Loki’s shenanigans and reopen the gate to Asgard, all while collecting treasure to please your Jarl (that’s Old Norse for “chief”). You accomplish these tasks by beating things until they break, as any good Viking would do. Viking Squad isn’t linear, either, so you can go back to the map and play any level you’ve completed.
Your squad (or lone Viking, if you play solo), also receives a hub, known simply as “Town,” where you can change weapons and armor, upgrade stats, buy necessities like Valor Charges and potions, and check achievements. Your Vikings start back at the Town after being defeated in battle, or they can choose to head there on their ship after finishing most levels. Central to the Town, and by extension, upgrades, is the need for treasure.
Treasure is separate from gold and isn’t as easily found. Collecting it isn’t just to please your Jarl, it’s essential to progressing in Viking Squad. You may find new weapons and armor on the battlefield, but they aren’t truly unlocked until you’ve purchased them with your treasure. Want to upgrade your health, strength, or rune power? You’ll need some treasure, first. This necessity for treasure puts a barrier on how your Viking levels up. Once you go back to the Town, your treasure stays there. Should you leave, you forfeit whatever treasure you didn’t use in that visit.
The need for treasure added an unnecessary layer on a game that was difficult enough—even more so while playing solo. It practically demands that you replay levels to grind for treasure just so you can stand a chance in later levels. As a result, leveling up doesn’t come naturally the same way it does when gaining experience, but rather like tedious farming, an unnecessary punishment for dying too soon. This was likely part of the difficulty of Viking Squad, but it’s more of an annoyance than a proper challenge.
Viking Squad was built as a co-op game, which becomes quite clear if you attempt a solo run. Playing alone isn't as enjoyable as playing with others, but it still manages to be lots of fun, even with the added challenge. Co-op play allows you to revive your fallen comrades within a ten second time limit, but going it alone means once you fall, you go right back to the Town. This makes health potions a necessity, especially in later levels. Unfortunately, they're hard to come by outside of the shop, rarely popping out of the crates you smash. Thankfully, you can sometimes find shops before fighting minibosses, giving you the chance to resupply. Gold drops often enough for you to pay for potions, but not so often to where you can afford several at a time without hoarding cash. As such, you have to use potions wisely, adding a good bit of difficulty to the game.
Where Viking Squad really shines is the design. Sounds are punchy and appropriate, but don't particularly stand out. The music is a great blend of traditional Scandinavian folk and hard rock. However, Viking Squad goes a step beyond with how detailed its art is. Shadows are dynamic, the Viking running the armor shop changes helmets with each new piece of armor unlocked, backgrounds are alive with movement, and bosses visually show the damage they've taken. One miniboss, a giant enemy crab named Pinchy, wears different "shells" each time you fight him, from overturned boats to treasure chest lids. It really makes the game stand out from others, in the sort of way where your screenshots can easily double as desktop wallpapers. It's that good to look at.
While Viking Squad's enemies are plentiful, they never get boring. On the contrary, they actually present enough of a challenge to keep them from becoming monotonous to fight. Insect-looking dudes with spears lunge at you from a distance, polar bears in barrels beat you with fish, and zombies throw exploding skulls at your face. While some basic enemy types are repeated across different visual designs, this isn't the case for all enemies, keeping combat fresh even to the last stages.
The bosses also put up fierce fights, from minibosses to major bosses, each one will punish you severely for any mistakes you make. The major bosses, in particular, are an absolute joy, to the point where playing Boss Rush is actually more of a fun experience than a way to challenge yourself. However, one major boss was essentially reused as the final boss, which felt like a cop-out at the end. These two bosses were also the most frustrating to fight, which dampened the experience right at the game's end.
In spite of the frustrations over treasure and a disappointing final boss, Viking Squad is just the right blend of a fun and challenging romp. The visuals are a treat for the eyes, and beating in enemy faces keeps you smiling with glee. It's a positive step forward for beat 'em ups, and a game that future titles in the genre should look to emulate.
Viking Squad is one of those games that's both fun and challenging to play, doing beat 'em ups justice all the while. While it does stumble on how it treats upgrades, it still manages to shine.
- Amazing Visuals
- Great Lane Mechanics
- Varied Character Choice
- Frustrating Leveling
- Rehashed Final Boss