Written by Warren C. Bennett
Developed by Airtight Games
The Ouya isn’t a system known for great exclusives. Outside a few fun games, most of the really good games can be found on other platforms. Airtight Games decided to step up to the plate and release an exclusive that combines the proud traditions of Norse Mythology with funky soul of the 70’s. Is this mash-up a disco delight or just another broken record?
Stairway to Heaven
The player controls Magnus Jones, the funkiest Viking warrior this side of Studio 54. While fighting off the enemy hordes, Magnus dies a noble warrior’s death. The groovy Valkyrie chicks hoist his corpse to Valhalla, an afterlife club where all the cool cats go. Unfortunately, the frost Giant manning the door has something against the funktastic protagonist and moves him to the bottom of the entry list. Magnus vows to get even with the giant that is messin’ with his groove. He starts his fight at the bottom of the Yggdrasil to exact his revenge and gain entry in to the hippest club in the universe.
That, in a nutshell, is the story behind the game. This story is fleshed out a bit by a training session, an intro, and a few bits of flavor narration throughout the game. This isn’t a game that needs a heavy story behind it to be fun and exciting. It is quite cool that the fine folks at Airtight spend as much time as they do layin’ it all out for the player.
Strut your Funky Stuff
The first thing that hits the senses when loading up Soul Fjord is the sound and visuals. This is a game steeped in the music and vibes of the 70’s. The intro splash screen looks like it is ripped off a Shaft movie poster while the soundtrack is a mix of funk and disco. This is all accessorized with a Norse flair. There is a Viking Cadillac sitting behind the afro haired hero who has his sword in hand and is ready to kick the funk out of his enemies.
The 70’s vibe segues in to the game itself. The entire product has references to the 70’s scattered throughout. These include Cadillac long boats, polyester suits, duel knob televisions with bunny ear antenna and a whole host of other objects that evoke that decade of excess. The nostalgic visuals are a reminder of Saturday Morning cartoons while mixing the pop culture of the 1970’s with the pop culture of the 970’s.
The music and sound effects fit the setting as well. The disco and funk infused music tracks aren’t overbearing but also help lay the foundation for the entire game. Since this is a product so focused on rhythm, it is good that the music is pleasant and fun. The sound effects work as well though they aren’t as noticeable as the music. The narrator also deserves mention, since he seems to be a combination of Howard Cosell and the typical newsreel announcer of the past. His quips and dialogue are a great addition to the overall tone of the game.
I Will Survive
The gameplay in Soul Fjord boils down to a basic ‘rogue-lite’ dungeon crawler. The player enters a room, kills all the enemies inside, and collects gear and other loot. Upon going through an exit, the doors to the new area shut tight. This turns each room in to a small arena full of enemies and deadly traps. The player can just bang on the buttons and defeat the enemies, but that would be ignoring the main gameplay element of this entire package. The player will end up dying and will have to start the game over. This is where Soul Binding equipment comes in to play so Magnus doesn’t start every session out with poor weapons.
Soul Fjord is a rhythm based dungeon crawler. As Magnus travels up the tree of life, there is a consciously streaming line of beats set to the funkified soundtrack of the game. Attacking on these beats leads to more damage and a deadly finishing move. Magnus has both a light and heavy attack, with each one represented by a different line of beats. Each type of weapon also has its own line of beats as well. This leads to a wide variety of attacks that can be performed depending n which weapon Magnus is wielding and how hard he hits the enemy.
The way attacks are implemented is a novel and unique take on the traditional action RPG dungeon crawl. An attack still hits if the player is off beat, but the real meat of the game is making sure to stay in rhythm. This might lead to a bit of frustration for those that aren’t rhythmically inclined, but I find it is easy enough to learn.
The unity engine is used to power this game and the graphics look like a mix of 70s era cartoons and modern Flash based game design. Unfortunately, this leads to a few issues with the gameplay. There are many moments when the actions is obscured by objects in the room, making it hard to see what Magnus is beating on at that particular moment. Attacking above and below Magnus is also kind of odd since there is often no real weight behind the off beat attacks. The character can get hung up on objects in the rooms, making it easy for enemies to attack Magnus while the player tries to move him away from certain areas. These issues lead me to think the game was a tad rushed, especially since there is so much else in the game that are polished.
I Want You to Want Me
Despite a few issues, Soul Fjord is a game that every Ouya owner should try. The whole product is free to play and costs nothing. A player can get through the game without having to pay any money for the micro transaction based Platinum Records. These records allow the player to soul bind items to Magnus, so when death comes the gear will still be available. The records also are used to open chests throughout the game, which have a chance of dropping great gear. The items found in chest are also soul bound so players won’t have to use any more records on the items.
Much to my surprise, the game gives an ample amount of these records in loot drops and defeating boss monsters. I didn’t have to spend a single dime to play through the game and bind my awesome gear. That isn’t to say I think people should withhold money from Airtight Games. On the contrary, this is a great product that deserves money. I just wonder if the Platinum Record system will bring in enough revenue. I’d love to see a Soul Fjord 2: The Fjord Strikes Back.
This isn’t the longest or deepest Rogue Like I’ve ever played, but the unique game play combined with the crazy awesome setting makes the game worth the download. I wish the levels had a bit more variety and the bosses were a tad harder (I beat the last boss in my first try) but that is just nitpicking. This is a game that will stay on my Ouya for awhile, taking up a good portion of those precious eight gigs that I have available. Airtight Games did a fantastic job on this product and I can’t wait to see what they do in the future. Hopefully we will see more games come out on the Ouya with the same quality craftsmanship that Soul Fjord shows.