Viking Squad is a sidescrolling arcade brawler for up to three players, both offline and online, and it proves to be good old fashioned beat-'em-up fun with friends sat beside you. Filled with colour, cartoon characters, and daft humour, it's got a lot in common with a game like Castle Crashers - except here, you're plopped into the shoes of one of four viking warriors.
On a quest to loot treasure from a slew of varied environments, the release doesn't have much of a story - and it doesn't feature any dialogue - but hints of the plot are doled out through numerous little cutscenes that add charm and character to proceedings. There's a certain cheeky confidence about Viking Squad that's endearing, from the way that the vikings roar when they jump off their raiding ship to the way some enemies panic and run away when you and your burly allies approach.
It also helps that the game's got a solid art style, boasting some cool boss designs and a colourful viking cast. It's a bit of a shame, though, that the animation quality doesn't quite reach the same level. There's that sort of flash animation-esque jankiness to the way everything moves, and although you do eventually get used to it - and the art direction does carry it to some extent - it can definitely look a little cheap at first.
Arcade brawlers don't live and die by their visual prowess, however. In the gameplay department, where it matters, Viking Squad stands strong as a capable brawler. Combat does lack a bit of flair, but an accessible control scheme and a steady upgrade system create a rock solid foundation.
Battles take place across multiple lanes - stretching from the foreground to the background - that you can hop between with the touch of a button, and victory often hinges on your ability to do so in order to avoid incoming blows. Indeed, rather than being a straight-up button basher, Viking Squad puts more of a focus on movement and positioning, with evasive and defensive actions playing a big part as you begin to understand enemy attack patterns.
Speaking of which, there's a decent amount of diversity when it comes to opponents, from spear-wielding polar bears to giant hermit crabs. Some enemies are far more challenging than others - like boxing bears that can combo you into oblivion if you're not careful - but by and large, smashing your way through hordes of critters is simple and enjoyable. Factor in special moves based on your chosen character as well as super techniques that deal huge damage, and you've got a beat-'em-up that rarely outstays its welcome, even if it doesn't take many creative risks.
You can certainly pound your way through the game alone, but the fun is unquestionably amplified when you're playing with friends. Scrambling to revive a fallen comrade, racking up crazy combo counts, and fighting over who gets to ride a powerful walrus are all part of the co-op experience, and unsurprisingly, the release as a whole feels much more lively when you're brawling with buddies.
Our only gripe with multiplayer is that having more than one viking on screen can cause a little too much chaos, to the point where it can be difficult to see just what the heck is going on. Sadly, the problem's only exacerbated by the fact that some foes - particularly bosses - are much bigger than your bearded brethren, at times making it especially hard to pick out yourself or your allies.
It's possible to blitz through Viking Squad in a few sittings, but there are actually a good number of reasons to revisit cleared stages. For one, levelling up your fighters and equipping newly discovered armour and weapons gives you access to fresh techniques and abilities, allowing for a reasonable level of customisation. On top of that, you'll soon come to realise that each stage offers alternate routes and secret challenges, which give way to a surprising amount of replayability, much like the branching paths of Dragon's Crown.
Last but not least, we have to mention the title's great soundtrack, which is full of energetic tunes and atmospheric scores - all of which are perfectly suited to this distinctly Nordic adventure.
Viking Squad isn't the most creative or exciting beat-'em-up on the market, but it's easily one of the most consistent. Packing a colourful campaign across a series of varied stages - complete with alternate routes that add a lot of replay value - this is a well made arcade brawler that's especially fun with friends.