By about the third campaign level of developer Clever Beans' "When Vikings Attack," I was ready to bail. The first few chapters in the crowd-based, object-tossing brawler, it felt like as I'd thrown my hundredth (likely thousandth) object at a mob of rowdy Vikings, the game had thrown the last of its tricks at me. But trust me on this: allow "When Vikings Attack" to emerge into the combat puzzle it was destined to be at around the midway point, and you'll find a furiously addictive little game.
The premise is simple: you play as a mob of Brits who have to come together to defend their towns, parks, museums, and what have you from some unruly, returned from the grave viking invaders. To do that, you'll have to increase the size of your own mob and pick up increasingly large objects to fling at the vikings as they amass onscreen. Of course, they'll be throwing things back at you including furniture, toys, cars, signage, and later bombs.
The first few single player levels involve simply strafing around the screen with your own mob, trying to keep it from being diminished too much by the viking attacks, snagging new recruits as they wander onscreen. And really, if that were all "When Vikings Attack" had to offer, I'd advise passing on it. Thankfully, albeit slowly, the experience evolves and you'll find the environment is as much of an obstacle as the vikings or that sometimes you'll have to bank shots to make contact with bosses, or when things get especially furious, you'll have to catch incoming objects and toss them back at the invaders.
Clever Beans fills their tiny cities with cutely animated wee people, although on the PS Vita screen, it's hard to pick up that some of your potential recruits provide buffs for your mob. In fact, the little icons over their head are downright impossible to read as one of the many things vying for attention of the limited real estate of the handheld's screen. Similarly, when you're down to one or two characters, it's easy for them to get lost in the fracas if they get too close to a viking group, and I've lost more than a couple of games because I couldn't tell who was throwing what where.
Those quirks aside, it's not only a strong single player offering, but makes a convincing argument for itself on the multiplayer side, offering a cooperative, two-on-one "Vikings vs. Vigilantes" mode alongside a competitive free-for-all mode. In both instances, the rules hold mostly the same as they do in the offline mode: pick up objects, fling them at your opponents, and try to whittle down the size of their group in the time limit. Clever Beans has made the odd decision to keep chaining together FFA matches one after another in what feels like an endless series of rounds. They're short at only a minute, but without any indicator as to when the actual match will end, it's hard to get a sense of your progress (unless you're just losing outright).
Those quirks aside, the pleasant art style and surprisingly deep gameplay make "When Vikings Attack" one of the more enjoyable surprises to crop up on PSN in recent weeks.
"When Vikings Attack" is available now on PSN for the Vita and PS3.
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