Volgarr the Viking for the PC is a special game. It’s also tough as nails. I’ve been playing it all week, and I can’t even get past the second world yet.
It’s the kind that you play, get utterly frustrated with, but start thinking about immediately after you turn it off. You’ll convince yourself that just one change in your approach will get you through a level unscathed, and then there you are, turning it back on to try again. When you close your eyes at night to go to sleep, all you can see is yourself playing through the game from beginning to end in exacting detail.
That’s precisely what’s happening to me at the moment. This was commonplace for me back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. I would only get maybe one game per month, if that, so I would play and master every game I received, whether they were good or bad.
Although I have played some difficult games in recent years, they bring with them modern conveniences, such as save slots or generous checkpoints that reduce the amount of times you have to replay levels. They keep you moving forward, and in many cases have bite-sized level design, which I think are good things, especially as gaming continues to broaden its appeal.
Bravely, though, Volgarr lacks any of that. The most you get is a mid-level checkpoint and the ability to skip stages you’ve already beaten. Respawning at a checkpoint, however, means you have to collect all your gear again and miss out on treasure. Skipping stages means you can’t get the game’s best ending. As such, the few bits of help the game offers come with trade-offs that give even these simple decisions consequence. For all intents and purposes, this game behaves like a cartridge with no passwords or battery back-up.
As I said, this approach reminds me of my youth, sitting in front of my Genesis and Super Nintendo getting absolutely destroyed by games like Super Ghouls’n Ghosts, Target Earth, and Contra III: The Alien Wars. And yet I beat them all and I was very, very good at them at the time. Why? Because I had no choice. I didn’t have any other new games to play, so I dedicated myself to what I had, and I loved every minute of it. I’m not someone who likes to show off, but I did enjoy showing my friends how to “easily” get through my games that they were struggling with.
Nowadays? In my Steam library, I have nearly 300 games. My console backlog is so deep that there’s no way there are enough years in a lifetime to play them all. For a system criticized for having “no games”, I have at least 5 on the Wii U that I haven’t even started yet. It’s no wonder then that I find myself moving away from the time-consuming genres I once loved, like 80-hour RPG epics, and prefer blasting through a 15-hour retro platformer, quickly moving on to the next one.
Volgarr, though, has shaken me to my core, and I’m thankful for that. It’s a reminder of why I can still remember the exact level layouts of The Revenge of Shinobi, but not be able to recall what the first level of Super Meat Boy looked like. That’s not a reflection on game quality, but I find that my memory of games is more generalized nowadays vs. how intimately specific they are from past gaming generations.
Feeling that way again this week has been awesome. I don’t know if I’d have this level of dedication with every game, but since it is an innate part of Volgarr‘s vision and design — in a day and age where ease and forgiveness are the norm — I’ll happily bite.