Zombie Vikings Review

By Mark Delaney,
Growing up, every one of us has heard the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" at one time or another, cast down from some wiser elder. It's a simple saying with an obvious meaning; don't cast judgment on something because of its appearance or your first impression. Let things sit with you, learn about them before weighing in on its merits. More often this is meant to defend something good that may first appear as something bad. In the case of Zoink! Games' Zombie Vikings, disappointingly the opposite is true.

Logo

Zombie Vikings is a side-scrolling beat 'em up in the vein of many old arcade games. In one- to four-player co-op players choose their characters, team up, and move mostly left to right smashing enemies as they appear. The proverbial cover of this book is a gorgeous art style despite its aim on the grotesque undead. Visually resembling both a cartoon and something like a pop-up book, Zombie Vikings will instantly draw you in with its style that loosely resembles something from Tim Schafer but remains unique.

Unfortunately, it takes only seconds for this positive first impression to begin collapsing under the weight of several glaring issues. It's commitment to vulgar bathroom humor is too puerile for adults but maybe too insolent for children. Even parents who don't limit their children's exposure to some adult themes will find the jokes offensive because of their plain stupidity, and the kids may agree. It's unclear for whom it's being written, but it's hard to imagine anyone of any age finding it funny — and it tries really hard to be funny.

The story's usage of zombies as the good guys seemed like a nice role reversal, but this alignment goes nowhere. You're not so much the good guys as you are just the playable characters. You'll root for no one because the story of two Norse gods butting heads and using you as their pawns is so poorly written that, in the end, the ability to skip cutscenes becomes a favorite feature.

zv 2Ugh.

The game features about 30 levels, which is quite lengthy. It does make a few moves to change up the pace with occasional levels that demand you constantly run away from threats behind you — a staple in the genre — as well as a refreshing, if frustrating, soccer match. The bulk of the game offers the same thing over and over, which is maybe par for the course for many beat 'em ups, but if that's true it's then fair to say Zombie Vikings actually would have benefited from fewer levels.

The combat offers little nuances like blocking, dodging, and a few varied attacks. In solo play, you'll want to practice these maneuvers to survive as you can't be revived by teammates. However, you can forego using any of this in co-op because button-mashing is consistently effective. My partner and I spent most of our time playing by smashing on the light attack button repeatedly to great effect, level after tiresome level. Enemies differentiated mostly in size alone; other cosmetic differences are just that and mean little to how combat needs to be approached. Even if they do incapacitate you, revival is quick and simple to perform, rendering players nearly invincible. It's too bad this is the case because playing with a friend is otherwise better, but perhaps it's just that misery loves company.

If the awful humor, button-mashing combat, and fatigue-inducing level design aren't enough to drive you away, the bugs should be. Enemies disappear off screen to areas no longer accessible and playable characters fall below the geometry too often to be excused. These were issues when the game launched on PS4 over a year ago. Back then, it was due to the game being rushed as a potential PS+ title. Now what's their excuse?

zv 1Is there a word for a joke so bad that you actually feel frustrated?

On the achievement side it's a very specific list. Story progression achievements are almost entirely excluded, while plenty of them require specific co-op feats that probably won't come from regular play. Anyone who manages the game's list of problems won't be rewarded with an easy completion. You'll need to stick with it for a while, but it's not overly difficult outside of finding tolerance.

Summary

Zombie Vikings takes an interesting premise and a beautiful art style and squanders them alongside a bulk of other issues. Bugs that should've long ago been patched out before migrating to Xbox, a sense of humor that only induces cringe, and a campaign that overstays its welcome and rewards button-mashing come together to form something fittingly brainless. Minimal simple pleasures might be found here if you and a few friends are looking for just another co-op game, but even then there must be others you haven't yet played that more often reward you in nearly every way.
3 / 10
Zombie Vikings
Positives
  • Beautifully strange art style unlike most anything else
  • Most of it is better in co-op
Negatives
  • Buggy
  • Button-mashy
  • Terrible, cringe-inducing attempts at humor
  • No matchmaking -- online play possible via direct invites only
Ethics
The reviewer spent roughly ten hours button-mashing, swapping swords, and facepalming at the awful humor of Zombie Vikings, collecting 6 of 33 achievements along the way. A download code was provided by ID@Xbox for the purposes of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.