Release Date: June 13, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Shorebound Studios (Shorebound Studios)
ESRB Rating: “N/A”
Shorebound games is a relatively new indie games studio, having previously released Spectraball and Dead Sky on Steam. Now they have bestowed upon us Viktor, an action platformer in the vein of Mega Man. And CastleVania. And Devil May Cry. Perhaps even a bit of Super Meat Boy? In short, Viktor draws from a lot of different games and forms a single coherent game that is one of the best side-scroller action games I have played in years.
Mega Man meets Simon Belmont
At its heart, Viktor is a Mega Man clone. A side scrolling action platformer with selectable levels, upgrades, fantastic bosses, and to some extent, a correct “order” it needs to be played in. Level and enemy pattern memorization reigns supreme. Viktor is a lot more than that however. The entire game has a much more gothic CastleVania, or even Devil May Cry vibe to it. The aerial acrobatics and dual wielding pistols is very Devil May Cry as well. This is all wrapped up in an art style that, in my mind at least, has a very Super Meat Boy aesthetic to it.
Viktor takes place in the world of Eos, which is split into two opposing but symbiotic realms: the Overworld and the Netherworld. Mephistopheles, ruler of the Netherworld has decided he’s had enough of the balancing act and wants it all to himself. To that end he lays siege upon the Overworld going so far as to coerce the guardians of the Overworld to his side. It is now up to Viktor, brother of Zane, the ruler of the Overworld, to take on Mephistopheles and save the Overworld. It sounds a bit convoluted when you lay it out like that, but believe me the narrative in Viktor is surprisingly well thought out, but is presented fairly minimally so as to never be overbearing on the action.
After Viktor‘s introductory level you are presented with a very Mega Man-esque level select screen where you can pick and choose the order in which you play the game. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is a “right” order to play the game in, but it certainly got a lot easier once I identified which bosses were the easiest for me so I could afford the upgrades needed for the more difficult ones. Notice I said “afford.” Unlike Mega Man, you don’t get upgraded weapons from defeating bosses. Rather, you collect money throughout the stage, with a large bonus for defeating the boss which you in turn use to purchase your upgrades. If you don’t complete the stage, you lose all the money you collected, so you can’t just grind it out. Upgrades are in the form of stat-boosts, not new weapons. Things like reload speed, magazine size, damage output, etc. New weapons are found hidden throughout the stages, some of which I still haven’t actually found.
The additional weapons are one of the few problem areas with Viktor. The problem is that they are all useless. In my playing all the side-weapons were poorly balanced and the default pistols always remained superior. For one, they have limited ammo, whereas the pistols are infinite. Beyond that, their cons always outweigh their pros: fire rate is too slow, reload time is too long, damage output too low, etc. The pistols were always the better choice overall. Fully upgraded pistols are better than fully upgraded anything else, plus they have infinite ammo. I wasted a lot of upgrade money learning this the hard way.
Twin-sticking to victory
The combat itself on the other hand is simply sublime. Everything is fast, fluid, and most importantly just a ton of fun. You have 360 degrees of aiming using a reticle a few feet out from Viktor. It’s different from most any game of its ilk, and takes some getting used to, but it really works and feels incredible once you adjust. I do however strongly recommend using a controller (Viktor has native XBOX 360 controller support), using a keyboard and mouse would be a bit nightmarish. The left stick controls movement, while the right stick handles targeting, or you could use a mouse if you hate yourself. The controls get even stranger when all of Viktor’s other skills come into play; he has the ability to teleport, Nightcrawler style, a few feet in whatever direction you are aiming, allowing you to pass through enemies, walls, platforms, or just to save yourself from a poorly executed jump. Teleporting is integral to the level and boss designs, so you will be using it all the time. Of course you will also be jumping all the time, while shooting and using your special move: a blast that hits all enemies in your vicinity when you fill an energy meter by inflicting damage. All of this is done on the triggers. The left triggers are jump and teleport, while the right triggers are your attacks. Using both the left trigger and bumper at the same time, along with firing with the right trigger, moving Viktor around with the left stick, and aiming independently in another direction with the right stick takes a fair bit of coordination. Again, you don’t want to be doing all of this on a keyboard. Oh, and weapon switching is done by clicking the sticks, something I kept doing by accident all the time until I remapped weapon select to the D-pad. Oh, and you have to reload your weapons with the “A” button.
All of this happens very quickly, and feels a bit overwhelming and uncomfortable at first. After you get used to it though, I can’t think of another shooter/platformer that controls this well. Once you get past the learning curve, you can never blame your death on the controls, lag, or anything other than you making a mistake. Indeed, the entire game is like that. Viktor is difficult, at higher levels extremely so, but it is never unfair. Enemies telegraph their moves, bosses have set patterns, enemy behavior is consistent and predictable, level layouts are challenging, but logical and well thought out. Viktor will challenge your reflexes, coordination, and memorization skills from beginning to end, but at no point will it punish you unfairly. When you get into a groove and begin to almost autopilot your way through the levels, playing this game is almost Zen-like.
Visually, Viktor is stunning. The dark, gothic aesthetic is balanced wonderfully by a somewhat cartoonish execution. Everything is somehow dark and light-hearted at the same time. If you’ve played Super Meat Boy, then you should have a decent idea of what to expect. Creatures and bosses look simply wonderful, with design cues pulling from CastleVania in a big way. Beyond the artistic style, animations are just superb. Everything is so fast and smooth, it makes the game a real joy to take in while furiously attempting not to die for the 40th time.
The same can be said about the music. All of the tunes are perfectly suited to both the gameplay and their respective levels. They can be a bit repetitive, as they loop sooner than they probably should, but the fast-paced gothic tracks are well done and fit right in. The soundtrack is almost reminiscent of some of the faster CastleVania music, like Bloody Tears. Let’s just say I played with my headphones turned up a bit louder than I probably should have.
A slice of action gaming heaven
My only real complaints are the poor balancing of the weapons, initially awkward controls, and that there aren’t more levels. The same night I got my review copy I was able to complete the game, at least on easy. Thing is, I was up until 4 AM trying to do that because I was so completely hooked on the game right from the start. Once I had identified the right order to complete the levels, and had figured out the boss patterns, it took me all of an hour to beat. Granted, it took me like 6 hours of not managing to complete a single stage before that happened. Then came new game +, higher difficulties, trying to get achievements, find all the weapons, etc. There is a good amount of replayability here, I just wish it was spread out across more than eight stages. For the $10 Viktor costs, it is well worth picking up. Even with the short-ish length I honestly think the game is worth more than that, Shorebound Studios seem to be selling themselves a bit short here. This is an excellent old-school action game that brings plenty of challenge, fun, and great design to the table. If you are at all a fan of the genre, I can’t recommend Viktor enough.