We’ve had God of War. We’re about to have Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Gaming is clearly in the process of plundering the Norse myths for story content, but in one small corner of the world, a group of devs (Perfectly Paranormal of kooky Manual Samuel fame) have taken a very different angle from those epics. While you’re waiting for AC:V you can get your fix of Odin’s nine realms with Helheim Hassle. It has none of the epicness or realism or those greats, and no one shouts ‘BOY!’ all the time, but it does have disembodied talking heads and lots of lols.
It’s not so much tongue-in-cheek as just a completely ridiculous piss-take of all things Viking, Valhalla and Norse. From Frost Giants to Fafnir, from Odin to Loki, everything is fair game. And why not? As one of my favourite memes likes to point out, there are no frost giants left (because Odin killed them) to get their hammers all bent out of shape over it. Bring on the nonsense.
If all that Norse ribbing isn’t enough, Helheim Hassle is somewhere between a puzzle platformer and a metroidvania, and asks the strange question; why have a full playable character, when you can break them up into pieces and have dozens of weird and wacky combinations, each with its own benefits, limitations, abilities and constraints. Its an interesting system that then drives the design of the whole package, as it should. But is it worth your hard-earned gold?https://www.youtube.com/embed/sUZRH18z2Io?feature=oembed
Fair warning right here, the story is nuts. If you like madcap stories, and don’t care that very little makes any real sense, then all aboard. If you do, then this is your stop.
So it’s Viking times, everyone is super-excited for battle, all the time. They love death, and the chance to go to Valhalla, well, it’s just super-cool, dawg. When Frost Giants come to raid the village, everyone’s running to engage. But little ginger-mopped Bjorn is meh about the whole battle thing. Like any normal person, he’d rather live another day. Your first quest as a young Viking in Helheim Hassle, is to find a place to hide and let it all blow over.
Miserable but practical little Bjorn finds a way to get himself killed anyway, falling on a bear and killing them both, and is rewarded with a one way trip to Valhalla. The End. Well, it would be, but fast forward a few thousand years and one of Satan’s (because for some reason he exists too) minions called Pesto (the love child of the grim reaper and Jimbo from The Simpsons), has been sent on a mission to Helheim, and needs aid while doing it. Cue finding Bjorn’s skeleton.
With a ‘Shred of life’ TM note in her pocket, Pesto raises Bjorn from the dead, and in the process relaims him from the constant Odin gaming league that is Valhalla. But now he’s an immortal reanimated corpse. And there’s some issues with how he’s been raised. For one thing, his body parts all seem to have been given independent life from him. Bjorn’s arms, legs, head and torso can all function independently of each other. Which then feeds into the main gameplay loop of the entire game. Traverse puzzle areas by disconnecting body parts, or reconnecting them in specific patterns to gain the end of the puzzle.
Bjorn and Pesto join forces and for reasons, decide to travel all the way to Helheim, mostly because Bjorn doesn’t want to go back to Valhalla. The road to Helheim is being renovated by Goblin Cobblin, a goblin construction firm of course. They are creating puzzles to get in the way of you getting to Helheim, and they are annoyed you’re here, because they’re not even finished making puzzles yet, mate. Their dialogue is almost as if the devs of the game are talking to you about being annoyed about the puzzles they’ve had to create.
Helheim Hassle revels in its writing. It’s constantly fourth wall breaking, meta and self referential. It’s satirical in places, mainly of the games industry, and that can be a charming feature. I laughed out loud at a number of jokes as I played. For example, when Bjorn finds a pair of pants, and mutters to himself that sometimes the vikings like to take their pants off before battle, or telling an old lady to shut up nagging you, you’ve added the side quest already! The voice cast have tried hard with an over the top and frankly quite ridiculous script, so kudos to them.
However the charm only takes you so far. After maybe five hours of zany character are crazy character, everyone shouting gosh darn instead of swearing, and the constant yabbering nonsense from most characters, I ended up losing all interest in the plot, which although complicated is fairly underwhelming. I began to not care.
So clearly the USP here is that you can detach your body parts and use them to solve puzzles. I like to wonder which came first with these types of things. Did someone come up with the body part platforming and then fit Norse/Viking stuff around it? Or did the Norse stuff come first and the body part mechanic follow? Because to me, some ten hours down, they still seem unrelated. Bjorn could have been any corpse, he didn’t need to be a Viking, or this could have been a trip to Helheim without the body part puzzles.
Sometimes things come in waves. Not three weeks ago, Greg reviewed Skully, a game about a disembodied conscious skull that could reanimate clay and make bodies for itself. Maybe there’s something in the air. It also massively reminds me of Neverdead, which was a disastrous 3D shooter version of the separate body parts mechanic, with horrific physics-based control of your flailing ragdoll legs for example. Thankfully, Helheim Hassle is better than that.
So, how does it work. Bjorn can detach his head, both arms and both legs, leaving a torso, to make six different independent parts. The torso is the most useless, pretty much a dead weight that can’t move. But hey, don’t think like that, think puzzles, because its very useful for leaving on pressure buttons for example.
The head on its own can’t jump, but it can roll. Roll under sections of puzzles to reach others, or use an arm to throw the head up to a higher point. The head can speak to NPCs, and solve puzzles that require speech or negotiation. But again on its own its limited.
The arms can move and climb, even on their own, and can pull levers, pick things up and chuck stuff, so they are pretty useful. You know, just like on a normal person. They can also stick together to create a creepy arm monkey that can clamber about and hang or carry things.
Legs can’t grip, but they can jump high, especially with no weight attached to them. Combine a leg and an arm, and you can get anywhere, do anything. Combine a head as well, and the world is your oyster.
The structure of the game is puzzle room after puzzle room, and the game throws them at you so often that the script is constantly referencing how many there are, and how naff they are. Throw your head up there, or your arm here and solve the puzzle. Connect these particular body parts and bounce up to that ledge, solve the puzzle. Granted there are lots of them and the game will last you a while if you find them rewarding, but the only times the mechanic really came alive for me, were in the larger more fully-realised concept puzzles.
There’s a large section a few hours in that explodes your body and scatters the pieces all over a town, requiring you to go round a number of buildings in an assortment of parts, trying to piece yourself together before you can move on. This demonstrated the system better than any other section, but the moment it was over, we were straight back to puzzle rooms, ad nauseum.
Another brilliant one was trying to get a large cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated machine running again. The machine would normally require six people to control, but of course for Bjorn it was just an average day. Flitting between one arm pulling levers, another chucking spanners to an old goblin woman, both legs and torso pushing different, and constantly changing pressure pads – hell, it was a laugh, and the best demonstration of the concept by a long shot. Controls for flitting between body parts are not the best, leaving you often cycling through them, especially each leg as its the same button, despite there being two legs. This makes the section tricky, but it was still the best implementation of the mechanic.
Without more of these better designed and more interesting puzzles, the body part mechanic gets old fast. There are lots of combinations, and the devs have thought it all out in lots of permutations, but at its core most puzzles boiled down to break yourself apart and open the doors, and then put yourself back together. Again, and again. Drawing attention to and joking about dull level design, doesn’t give you a free pass to include dull level design.
Helheim Hassle has a striking art-style, but it’s not one I like. It often looks like its halfway to Guacamelee, and it’s sometimes got similar humour, but that style just worked better. Character models are animated in what I often describe as a paper puppet style, a bit South Park-like, where the models are made up of lots of individual flat sections. It suits the wacky and zany characters and the caper feel of the story, but I don’t like it. If you like it, then good for you.
There’s a lot of inside jokes for gamers in here which were appreciated. Odin runs Valhalla as if its his own professional gaming league, and he’s the insane announcer. Goblins talk like game developers. There’s lots of silly one-liners about other games if you keep your ears open, or silly names for weapons.
One fun section, in the town where you get exploded, is that there’s an indie-gaming convention happening. You’ll find a few strange collectibles as you complete puzzles or find your way into secret areas, and one such is Soul Coins. Well, here’s where you spend them. Hand over your coins and you can access short puzzle levels in homage to well-known indie games. The first was called Limbs, and was a level based around the Limbo silhouette aesthetic. It’s only a couple minutes long but it’s nice additional content with a soft spot for its contemporaries. Then there’s Super Feet People (Super Meat Boy), The Confusion (The Witness), Puzzlecraft (Minecraft), and ART (GRIS). Light ribbing of the indie community, anyone?
The name Hassle is unfortunate, because even though it’s clearly about the Hassle of all the puzzles and adventure getting in the way of you getting to Helheim, it really does become a hassle having to both find and manually use each separate body part, and having to reconstitute yourself all the time. The gameplay loop starts out interesting, but due to the repetitive nature of the puzzle designs, it gets dull fast. I longed for a reset button which would just bring all body parts back together, and yes, I know that would ruin a number of the game’s fundamental puzzles, but by that point I was bored.
Solving puzzles while a disgruntled goblin is getting irate that you’re cheating because you’re taking off body parts, can be fun. Helheim Hassle certainly made me laugh quite a few times. But a repetitive gameplay loop, a tiresome numbers of puzzles, some frustrating controls, and a world that I felt no compulsion to explore or continue in, left me wanting a lot more than just a few lols.
Helheim Hassle is available from August 18th on Xbox One (reviewed), Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Developer: Perfectly Paranormal
Publisher: Perfectly Paranormal
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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