Back before Blizzard created the PC gaming trifecta of World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft and revolutionized the industry as we know it, they were originally known as Silicon & Synapse. While most people are only familiar with Blizzards recent output (referring mainly to this decade), their time at S&S ended up producing some of the most notable games of that given era. While Rock n’ Roll Racing is widely considered to be a cult classic and Blackthorne is still noted to this day as an under-rated platformer, it was The Lost Vikings that make the studio notable for bring one of the most creative power houses of the 16-bit generation.
The Lost Viking’s plot revolves around three vikings being taken from their homeland by the intergalactic space lord Tomator. After they escape imprisonment, they have to go through different time periods in the hope that they’ll be able to return to their own time period. The plot fits in very well with the games colorful cartoon-esque setting, giving a light-hearted vibe to the game, as well as being rather integral to the setting. Silicon & Synapse decided to take the three most prominent functions in video games (attack, block and jump) and turned them into their own characters. S&S decided to use the setting as a means of explaining all this, as before the start of each stage there’s a brief cutscene displaying the characters abilities in a given situation. This is a great way of explaining the game mechanics to the player without feeling intrusive.
Going back to the gameplay, the game puts you in the control of three characters: Erik, a fast viking who has the ability to jump and ram into walls to reveal hidden passages, Balrog who carries a sword and a limitless supply of arrows to take care of the enemies that stand in your way and Olaf, a bulky viking who carries a wooden shield that allows him to block attacks by enemies. Your goal is simple, make it from the start of the stage to the end. While this is an objective that has been around since the days of Super Mario Bros, The Lost Vikings requires you to use the three vikings cooperatively in order to get to the end goal. This makes The Lost Vikings a puzzle game under the guise of an action game.
This allows for an astonishing amount of versatility in the level design. Most action games require you to focus on moving the characters around the level design (Mario, Sonic, Ristar, anything really) while The Lost Vikings requires moving the level design to suit the characters. By this I mean as you have the ability to swap between controlling each viking, they will have to use their abilities in tandem so they can progress further through the stage (all three vikings have to pass through the clear gate to pass the stage, so no concept of sacrifice can be used to make the game easier).
As an example of this, the opening stage puts you in the control of Erik where you are confronted with a laser field and a platform with a ladder on it. From the opening cutscene you know that Erik can jump high, so you can jump over to the platform, climb up the ladder and reach the exit. The game then tells you you can use the L and R buttons to switch characters, and when you do you’re immedietly confronted with a new perspective. By defeating a green monster with Balrog or walking towards a laser gun with Olaf and then traversing down a ladder with each character (in either order), you get towards the goal with a transition to the next level. This kind of design mentality matures throughout the game with this same kind of approach applied in increasingly complex situations.
While the game’s puzzles are all incredibly intuitive that can be solved by anyone without going to GameFAQ’s if they put their mind to it, S&S included items that allow the player to use if they are having difficulty approaching a situation. While some are needed in order to progress through the game such as the bombs which can destroy sections of walls allowing further progression through the levels, there are other items such as the various pieces of fruit that restores a section of health (each of the vikings can take three hits, if they die then you have to restart the level from the beginning). There are also weapon alternatives such as a nuke-like device that can destroy every enemy on the screen if maneuvering Balrog becomes tricky and there are fire arrows that allow Balrog to kill every enemy with only one hit, making the more action based parts of the game more manageable (which only arise because you as the player made it that way).
Saying The Lost Vikings is a cult classic is kind of selling its impact short. While it may have some general obscurity to it like Ranger X did, it is often recognised as a very important game at the very least. Blizzard themselves hold a fondness for The Lost Vikings to the point where they’ve had cameos in World of Warcraft, Blackthorne and Starcraft II (The game even got a sequel five years after its release!) Seeing a Lost Vikings 3 is most likely a mere dream (The closest you are likely to get is something on the lines of Trine), however it would be nice if more developers could take note of The Lost Viking’s mechanics and ideas in this age of XBLA and PSN to carry on the title’s legacy.