When the synopsis of Trial By Viking hit my inbox, I’ll admit that I was excited. After coming off the heels of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse a few months ago and Axiom Verge after that, I was hungry for more Metroidvania style games. Trial By Viking is described to have Metroidvania elements in its marketing and store page, however this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Metroid, and by comparison Symphony of the Night, established a formula that later games seeked to emulate. Trial By Viking is less of a Metroidvania and more of a Super Meat Boy, but not in a good way.
First of all, a good platformer is built on controls. It’s been said that Shigeru Miyamoto spent hours and hours in an empty room to get the controls of Mario 64 to where he wanted him. Trial by Viking has some of the floatiest controls I’ve played since the plethora of bad platformers on the SNES, like Bubsy or Speedy Gonzales. The jump arc is so shallow in Trial by Viking and even jumping up to an easy platform is like balancing on a unicycle, spinning plates to entertain the masses.
To further heckle the player, enemies have knockback, meaning the slightest attack can send the viking plummeting to his doom. Even the player’s attacks have knockback, so trying to smack an enemy on a small platform sent me to my death, making ranged the only option in most situations. Some enemies are placed in the perfect vantage point to kill the player in a single hit, making the game’s pacing frustrating. Most levels I played, I tried to find the exit as quickly as possible, hoping the level design got better towards the end. Then, I ran into the first boss.
As a preface, one of the first abilities that’s unlocked early on is a roll with temporary invincibility. I assumed this would let me roll through pesky enemies, a la Dark Souls. Nope. Rolling actually hurts enemies, keeping the viking against the enemy and enemies damage on touch. Thus, the first boss is the perfect example of how conflicting design choices can make for a bad time.
The first boss is a big dude with an axe. He charges occasionally, flailing it around. Also, he jumps at complete random. This A.I. pattern, coupled with the shoddy controls and no way to jump over the boss with confidence, makes for a frustrating experience. After about fifteen minutes of dying repeatedly, I found the best strategy to be throwing the axe, while the boss is out of view of the screen and hope for the best. Later bosses don’t fix this paradigm either.
If anything, visually the game has charm. Odin appears in the beginning, with his crows and his big spear, and his design is actually unique. Story wise, the viking was plucked from his simple life to tackle Loki, who has fragmented the sun stone that keeps the dark stone in balance. Collecting these sun gems throughout the levels allows for upgrades. Word to the wise, get double jump immediately.
Speaking of the double jump, it definitely feels like the game is designed around having it, or at least it makes the awful platforming more palatable. Unfortunately, to get the double jump, the viking must acquire the power-up above it, which increases the character’s speed, which makes the game almost impossible.
I stomached through about seven levels with even worse controls than what I started with, to finally get the double jump, in hopes the game would be better. After another boss or two with this holy grail of platforming abilities, I quit the game entirely.
For anyone looking for a solid platforming experience, I would avoid Trial by Viking like the plague.
What’s sad is that the game could be fixed by simple tweaks. Toss this sort of game in a broader, single environment and there could be some fun to be had. Increase the jump height and platforming could feel natural. Take away knockback entirely, as it can ruin even good games in this genre. Sure, the fact that it was created by a single developer is commendable, but its gonna take truthful criticism to make for better game development. I love the Norse characters and themes, but the game itself is just poorly designed.