When Vikings Attack is a multiplayer-focused PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita game from Clever Beans that succeeds in delivering an entertaining take on the brawler genre thanks to its simple yet engaging gameplay and solid multiplayer options. Revolving around the concept of a Viking invasion that takes place in 70s Britain and threatens to disrupt the traditional way of life of many civilians, When Vikings Attack puts you in the role of a group of civilians defending their territory.
Players control a mish-mash of ‘normal’ people from society, including businessmen, butchers, schoolboys and priests, as they defend their precious town from the marauding invaders by throwing any object that they can find at the baying mob. This isn’t a typical Viking invasion though, which would probably involve the likes of axes and spears, but the action actually feels more akin to a Euro football hooligan brawl as players fight outside cafes using tables as weapons and on high streets picking up dustbins and street furniture to hurl at their enemies.
The underlying mechanics are extremely simple. Though you control a group of approximately 12 civilians, they all bunch together in a circular formation so you move them as one entity with the left analogue stick. The brave bunch zip around the arena picking up objects to chuck at their attackers, from hay-bales and benches to large pieces of meat and ambulances. The weapon range is incredibly diverse, though most of the objects are simply used for throwing and have the same impact no matter what you pick up. The variety is largely for aesthetic purposes only, but it makes fighting much more fun and a standard weapon-set of pistols and machine-guns just wouldn’t have the same impact.
The aim of the game is to throw these objects at the other group or groups of enemies who are also tossing projectiles at your pack. When you hit them, or vice versa, the group gets smaller. If they destroy your team, it’s game over and you start that arena again. You’re essentially locked into an area until you’ve destroyed waves of attackers before being allowed to walk up the street to the next battle arena.
There’s a good range of well-crafted, cel-shaded arenas that provide the backdrops to the action, from farms and village fetes to parks and shopping centres. They all have a distinctly British feel to them too, both visually with the likes of red post-boxes dotted around the high street, to the sound-bites that you’ll hear. Check out the regional accents from civilians, such as the Brummies shouting out ‘flippin ‘ell’, or the occasional ‘Alreet’ in a Geordie accent, which add to the humour that runs throughout the game. There’s also some witty public announcement videos from the Department of Vikings that are well worth watching prior to some of the levels.
Though there’s only two buttons you need to worry about, ‘X’ to dash and ‘Square’ to throw, each battle requires an element of strategy. While tossing a car at a group of bad guys can knock them all out in one go, a chair may only kill a few of them, so there’s a constant cat-and-mouse battle for the best weapons in each arena. The dash move allows you to dodge away from incoming projectiles and race towards your favourite items, but can also be used to steal the opposition’s weapons right out of their hands by bumping into them.
As you get further into the game you’re introduced to various new features, including different coloured missiles which can be used to cause splash damage, or even make some of Vikings flee from their own team and join your side. There’s also environment-based tactics that can be used, such as bouncing a bomb off a lamppost to get the right angle to get behind an enemy’s shield. You’ll also have to keep an eye out for wandering civilians who will join your cause if you brush past them.
Some civilians even have special abilities. While having a character who is strong on your side enables you to lift a limo over your shoulder and effortlessly toss it toward the pack, another may have a running ability that allows your group to pick up the pace, which can be crucial when two groups are dashing for the same weapon. Overall, gameplay offers a nice blend of fast-paced arcade action and strategy and balances it well with accessibility and pick-up-and-play appeal.
The boss battles are extremely varied too and though generally you face a tough baddie with an extra-large health metre, there are some light puzzle elements involved. In one battle, for example, you need to pick up a hollow piece of tubing and twist it around using the shoulder buttons to send a projectile through two pipes either side of the screen, timing it perfectly to take out the constantly-shifting boss. In another, you’ll need to work out that only bombs cause him damage and no other weapons.
The further you progress the more frantic the action gets as multiple groups attack and the final boss challenges at the end of each level get progressively tougher. There’s characters to unlock along the way, which join your battle, for beating stages and you rack up points for accuracy, speed and combos and are awarded up to three stars for your efforts at the end of each level.
The only downside, though this could be deemed a positive if you’re looking for an accessible arcade game, is the fact that objects more often than not auto-target. So, as long as you’re pointing them in roughly the right direction, the item that you throw will inevitably hit the enemy straight on. That does mean you can get away some of the time with just running around to grab objects and then spamming the ‘Square’ button to get hits. We’d personally have preferred a manual targeting system to make it more challenging, or at least have the option to switch from auto-target to manual.
Also gameplay can get a little repetitive throughout Quest mode as you’re simply doing the same actions over and over again, albeit with different looking weapons and across different backdrops. Bearing in mind that When Vikings Attack is designed to be played in short bursts however, and as most stages won’t take more than 15 minutes to complete, the repetitive actions never really become much of an issue. This isn’t a game you’re going to play all day long, but it’s a title that you’ll probably dip into quite frequently, half-an-hour at a time.
When Vikings Attack really shines in multiplayer and the Quest mode is far more enjoyable playing co-operatively in a public game as you work together to complete some of the achievements and ‘ace’ the levels. Considering the game costs just £7.49/€9.99/$9.99 – and that’s for the PS3 and Vita versions – there’s a lot of value to be had from the multiplayer modes. There’s Last Man Standing (deathmatch), which pits you against one other player, Vikings vs. Vigilantes (team deathmatch), where teams go at in hammer and tongs and Gold Rush where teams fight to win five medals. It’s testament to the quality of the multiplayer that there’s plenty of people online to play with and when we’ve opened up our Quest game to the public it’s never too long before someone joins. Multiplayer mode uses the same backdrops and weapons from the multiplayer mode, but within the competitive online arena matches feel more intense and exciting.
When Vikings Attack goes to prove that a good developer doesn’t need a multi-million pound budget to make an entertaining game that keeps you coming back for more. Despite the fact that we’ve spent a lot of time simply running around fairly small cartoon-styled arenas pressing just two buttons, it oozes pick-up-and-play appeal and the fiercely competitive online brawls have kept us coming back time and time again for more. Taking into account the low price tag (one price for both the PS3 and Vita versions), the amount of content you get with offline and online Quest modes and the three online multiplayer games, plus the ample replay value, When Vikings Attack and developer Clever Beans deserves all the plaudits it gets.