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Star Vikings is a sort of turn-based strategy game developed by Rogue Snail, a Brazilian studio helmed by Mark Venturelli. Mark has been active in Brazil’s indie scene for several years, and worked on Relic Hunters as well as WOTS-favorite Chroma Squad. Star Vikings pits the titular spacefaring nordic heroes against a legion of relentless space-snails, with a mysterious artifact in the center of their conflict. It’s billed as “casual,” but just how casual are we talking? Find out in my Star Vikings review!
Star Vikings is a turn-based strategy game for sure, but it’s certainly not a conventional example of the genre. Your vikings move from left to right across a set of five lanes, and they attack enemies that stand in their path. In this way, Star Vikings initially feels a lot like Plants vs Zombies but played as the zombies. The similarities are superficial, however.
Depending on the enemy type, snails might react differently to your approach. While the vast majority of enemies simply counterattack when hit, others charge you and attack every turn. There are also traps that, when hit, fire a projectile that damage whatever it hits.
A full head-on assault is almost never the right course of action. Viking health is a previous resource and must be conserved. Instead, often you’ll rely on your vikings’ special attacks to thin the herd and make picking off the remaining enemies a much safer proposition. By hitting enemies from afar, you can trigger their counterattacks to hit other enemies, allowing you to turn the tables without taking damage.
For instance, a common type of enemy snail attacks in all four directions when hit. If you attack this guy from afar, you can cause him to hit another snail, who might counterattack right back. Now the first snail fires again, doing even more damage. This back and forth combo’ing can clear whole groups of snails without putting your vikings into harm’s way. However, energy for these special moves is limited, so planning is key.
Individual levels in Star Vikings task you with meeting some sort of goal, usually by clearing 4-5 waves of enemies. There’s a lot of different levels to play – probably around 20 to clear the “main quest” plus another good 20 more in sidequests and bonus levels. A flat out sprint of the game took me 6-8 hours, but you could easily get 20+ if you’re going for everything.
While Star Vikings relies heavily on strategic thinking, once you get past the tutorial stages the maps are all randomized. You might get a favorable layout where you can trash all the enemies with no issues, but then the next stage might not be so easy. If all your vikings die, you’re kicked back to the world map without anything to show for it. On top of that, a lot of abilities have a percent chance to activate, while enemies do constant damage to you in return. Often, it felt like I was at the mercy of the random number generator when battling space snails.
Balance and difficulty scaling are two areas I consistently found lacking in Star Vikings. Enemies quickly grew in strength to the point where they could easily one-shot my vikings. Meanwhile, I’m still doing a piddly amount of damage in return. It wasn’t until very late in the game when I’d unlocked some relatively powerful hats that I really felt like I was starting to catch up with the power curve.
You can’t undo a move, and you can’t leave a level without losing your progress, so taking risks seemed to be heavily disincentivized. I found myself having to go back and grind older levels to boost my experience and gold. There’s also no respec of viking abilities, so if you make a mistake there you’re going to have to hire a new viking of that class and train him up to a reasonable level again. You might have to do that anyway, since vikings you hire often have stat bonuses you can’t find on the “default” set you’re given through the plot.
Meanwhile, there were some vikings with abilities that were downright essential, while others I could have cared less about. The “mortar” ability allowed me to hit any square on the map and deal damage – essential for making the kind of thoughtful moves that hurt the enemy snails the most. Meanwhile, another viking’s ability triggers traps, which were often not in a great position or so few in number that I couldn’t make use of his ability consistently.
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Star Vikings is an engaging and challenging turn-based strategy game. Unfortunately, the random elements and the seemingly required grind make it far less casual and more frustrating than it really wants to be.