In 1991, Jaleco published Avenging Spirit for arcades and one year later for the humble Game Boy. What set this cute platformer apart from the rest of the bunch was the ability to possess enemies, thus offering up a varied roster of characters with different abilities to navigate each level. So it's a pleasant surprise to rediscover this very same mechanic nearly three decades later.
Die for Valhalla! sees you playing the role of a Valkyrie, creatures from Norse mythology who are responsible for deciding who lives and dies in battle. In the case of this video game, that translates into the ability to control fallen Vikings by raising them from their graves, possess live Viking warriors mid-battle, takeover inanimate objects such as bushes and barrels and (with the proper upgrade path) even slip under the skin of some enemies, too. All of this in a multiplayer scrolling beat-'em-up with proceduraly generated maps plus some rogue-like character development elements thrown in with a good serving of humour and Norse mythology lessons.
Once you decide if you will play a bigger, more relaxed adventure or a smaller, more hardcore experience, a tutorial level introduces you to your controls. ‘Y’ is your standard attack while ‘X’ unleashes a stronger, special attack unique to each character. Tapping ‘B’ while controlling a Valkyrie will allow you to take over a character or inanimate object. After a successful possession, ‘B’ becomes your jump button. ‘A’ is your useful dash option, limited to your character’s blue stamina bar.
‘L’ enables you to defend and is an essential skill to defeat some opponents, while a top of ‘R’ unleashes Odin’s blessing when available (this game equivalent of Golden Axe’s screen-clearing magic attacks). If you wish to discard your currently possessed vessel, a quick click on the right analog stick will return turn you back to your original Valkyrie form, but get killed in this form and it’s ‘Game Over’. These quickly become second nature as you progress in your quest to discover what is behind the mysterious invasion of your homeland.
Across your adventure you will be collecting quite a bit of glory. Beyond the intangible glory of your heroic deeds in combat, defeating enemies will produce orbs of glory that are the de facto experience points needed to upgrade your Viking warrior. You know you’re doing right when your chosen warrior begins to wear a fancier helmet, while at the same time improving his basic health and stamina stats and even gaining a new charge attack executed by keeping ‘Y’ held down for a bit. At the end of each successfully cleared level or defeating one of the many screen-filling giant bosses, you are showered with tons of glory and potions.
Each of these potions adds one extra beneficial effect for your Viking (or if you choose hardcore mode, sometimes a penalty) such as adding status effects to your default attacks. Since these stack up, you can end up with a massively powerful warrior by clearing a few levels but don’t get too attached to him/her because when they're slain you will lose all accumulated glory and potions. It's not impossible to play the entire game with a single Viking character, but to do so is a tremendously difficult task, especially since the generous amount of flying hearts you can use to restore your Viking’s HP in the earlier levels become increasingly scarce as you progress in the randomly generated world.
Your Valkyrie also levels up after acquiring a certain amount of glory. You get to pick two options for your development between levels. The Runes mini-game lets you pick a path of stats bonuses for your vessels while the skills bonus lets you pick fixed bonus that you can use through the rest of your adventure. Incentive to keep playing comes in the form of Clans. At first you only have access to the Iron clan – three distinct classes (hunter, berserker and warrior) of both genders for a total of six different potential possession targets.
Hunters use bows and arrows to fight at long range, berserkers excel at close combat by dual-wielding weapons while warriors use sword and shield. Each comes with a unique special attack such as the warrior’s shield bash for stunning foes. While progressing in adventure mode, stronger enemies will drop Thor’s Hammer and once you collect 20 of these you get to unlock another of the 11 clans, each with their own distinct classes and bonuses. It is a very clever way to reward your progress while at the same time progressively expanding the playable roster.
While some of background graphics do tend to get reused often, both Viking heroes and foes are aesthetically pleasing and often have some humorous touches. Animation might not be up to everyone’s taste as it uses a technique similar to South Park rather than the more conventional frame-by-frame sprite animation. The actual fighting is both fun and smooth. Despite the repetitive nature of the genre it proves interesting enough to keep you going (or just possess a different character the mix things up). The music is suitably epic and the interludes between stages and the ones after them that expand the plot will often leave you smiling thanks to some well written, clever humour. Despite being roughly on the same level of lore teaching as Jotun, Die for Valhalla! does not take itself as seriously.
Despite all this successful mix of genres and ideas, the lone Valkyrie might find herself a bit tired of all the work ahead. Monster Couch game was designed with local multiplayer as a major focus so if you can find one to three extra Valkryies to come along the journey, the experience is a far more hectic and satisfying one.
Die For Valhalla! is a successful mix of several genres that mainly presents itself as a lengthy side-scrolling beat-'em-up and just like the majority of such games is best enjoyed with friends along the way. There is still a lot to chew for the lonely solo player out there, so if you into the genre and Norse mythology, do consider giving this one a possession. Odin would approve and so do we.