Nostalgia Tripping is a column in which Dan Tallarico explores his collection of retro games to see how well they hold up. You can expect heartbreak, childhood flashbacks and a ton of Capcom games. Want to yell at him about old games? Find him on Twitter. In honor of Blizzard’s 20th Anniversary, Dan decided to take a look at a game from their humble beginning as Silicon & Synapse.
What I Remember
See, these guys are vikings, and they’re totally lost. This is great on so many levels because vikings are so well known for pillaging, murder, and exploration. The three traits any viking is judged on are their ability to do those things well. Gaming in my youth relied so much on surface level context. The Lost Vikings was a cart full of blood, gore, and violence. I figured it would be wrapped in a quirky cartoon motif, but I’d storm villages leaving behind a trail of blood mixed with beard hair.
Instead of The Lost Vikings challenging my morality, it challenged my noggin. You think I had the patience as a child to switch between three characters, each with one specific ability, to solve puzzle after puzzle? Absolutely not. But, the theme was so charming and clever that I tried my best. How did I know that the game wouldn’t open up into some side-scroller murder simulator eventually? It was the carrot that kept me solving puzzles. Oh, and there was a space travel element. What was up with that?
Playing it Now
The Lost Vikings is an ancestor to a few items. It partially inspired Trine, as you have three vikings who must work together to escape danger. It was made by Silicon & Synapse, which later became Blizzard who developed strategy games involving way more than three lost souls. And the Three Stooges share the same humor and quirk as these vikings, who bicker over who’s better and laugh at each other’s downfall. Well, maybe the Three Stooges are a bit more violent.
While the Lost Vikings inspired a few games, they’re a hybrid of mid-90 standards. This was the heyday of point-and-click games so Silicon & Synapse would have been fools not to include that element. The three vikings can share items, some that restore health and boost attributes, others open gates or locked doors, so it’s imperative to give the right key to the viking that can reach the door to ensure progress. Some of the earlier levels are standard, get the key to the door, but later levels play out like the final stage of Double Dare. It’s an adrenaline pumping game where you’re handing off items to conquer an obstacle course with your lives on the line.
Levels are horizontal and vertical with each viking equipped with two abilities to progress. Eric the Swift is the only viking that can jump making him a reliable platformer, who, surprisingly, never had a spinoff game to himself; Baleog the Fierce has a sword and a bow to defeat foes; and Olaf the Stout is pudgy, and has a shield to absorb bullets and doubles as a hang glider. It’s like a rock, a piece of paper, and some scissors teamed up to go on a picnic together.
But those puzzles… One wrong move, a stray arrow, or a misplaced viking and it’s all over. There’s no indication that losing a viking impedes all progress. It’s possible to beat levels without a viking, but when you do it resets the level. The lack of warning is barbaric. On the plus side, when you do die there’s a tiny cutscene of a 16-bit viking funeral, complete with flaming boat.
One puzzle that elicited a controller throwing rage was in the third stage. My vikings were exploring the spaceship that kidnapped them at the start of the game when gravity was reversed. All my vikings slowly rose to the ceiling and drifted into exposed electricity which popped them like the bubbles in a cold glass of seltzer water. There was no avoiding it, no learning opportunity. I felt like a viking who was kidnapped by a futuristic ship and had no idea how any of the mechanics work. Wait… perhaps The Lost Vikings purposefully screwed over my troupe of vikings to put me in their shoes. The environment is foreign and technology surrounds the salt of the earth warriors. At first I thought I had the advantage since it’s 2012 and I’m sort of familiar with how spaceships work. Yet, as the one calling the shots I stumbled through this futuristic ship and my bravado ended the life of my entire squad.
This game might be the greatest sci-fi viking simulator out there. I’m not entirely sure what the market is like, but exploring a foreign environment with a limited skill set afraid of death is as thrilling as being abducted by a spaceship yourself. It’s not long into the game until you realize that brute forcing your way through the dungeon like a viking pillaging a town results in tragic death. Patience, cunning, and strategy are paramount in The Lost Vikings quest to return home.
The game never delves into the deep depths of action. The Lost Vikings is about puzzles and having a chuckle. Levity lurks around every corner and there’s always a wisecrack from a NPC or viking that keeps you wanting to read more. Part of the humor comes from the fact that vikings, who are notoriously violent, are in a puzzle/platformer that requires the patience of a saint.
Zingers and deep philosophical realizations aside, The Lost Vikings is such a delight to play through. I typically don’t continue playing the Nostalgia Tripping games past the posting period, but the puzzles and controls hold up so well in The Lost Vikings that I might try and champion the adventure this weekend. It’s the ultimate viking experience.