A true Viking yearns to die in battle and join Odin’s host in Valhalla; fight all day; party all night; for all eternity.
Bjorn Hammerparty is a young Viking unlike the rest. He enjoys a more laid-back lifestyle and longs for a cowards’ death, so that he can spend a soothing eternity in Helheim. However, when he accidentally kills a bear with his own “bear” hands – as Odin himself puts it – he is forced to reside in Valhalla.
Centuries later, everything changes once he is reanimated by a certain character from the more “traditional” hell; her name, Pesto – any resemblance to the Italian sauce being pure coincidence.
For a chance of becoming a permanent tenant of the Viking hell, Bjorn will aid his newfound friend overcome the many puzzles scattered through the treacherous road to Helheim. To do so, he will have to use his head… sometimes his arms… legs… torso… as the situation demands…
A puzzle-riddled hell
Helheim Hassle is a 2D puzzle platformer, with the goal to simply solve the riddles along the way, in order to progress towards Helheim. Not that such progress is strictly linear since, along the way, several mishaps befall on our poor hero, and often we are led to revisit old sites to complete a quest or explore a new location.
Throughout the journey, we must follow through with several game mechanics. First and foremost, Bjorn’s uncanny ability to detach body parts, rearrange them, and move them independently.
Cannot reach a high platform? Easy! Detach the head and the body is now lighter and can thus jump higher. That other lever is still too high? Throw an arm up there and then use it to pull it. A pressure sensor sits at the end of a long, narrow shaft? Crawling is for lesser Vikings! It is much easier to simply take away your head from your body, and have it roll towards the target. Why bend down to avoid hitting a low ceiling, when it is much easier to remove the head and legs and just drag the torso with your arms? And, if you need a hand to hold on to a high ledge and the head to read what is written on the sign that is up there, it is no big deal! Attach an arm to a leg, so the whole thing is light, and the head can just hang on by biting!
Not only is this premise both unusual and original, it is also superbly achieved and well-balanced. Each one of the 29 possible combinations of head, trunk and limbs, have their own traits and they all make perfect sense… Assuming there is such a thing as an animated Viking corpse capable of these feats.
But the surprises do not stop there! There are several additional mechanics introduced as we move forward through the game. They entail, for example, using certain body parts in conjunction with objects or terrain features. Although, I would rather not go into too much detail, so as to not spoil the fun. Suffice to say, they are creative and manage to keep the gameplay fresh, with a good variety of puzzle designs and ways to solve them.
Sometimes, the challenge involved in solving a puzzle lies simply in how to reach a certain place with a certain body part. At other times, puzzles require attention to detail and a quick and critical thinking, even an unorthodox one at times. And, naturally, there is no shortage of secondary quests, secrets to explore, and treasures to discover, enough to satisfy the most completionist of players.
Revamping the Mythos, with plenty of wit
Helheim Hassle does more than present us with a succession of puzzles. The absurdly delicious story, filled with hilarity and animation sequences, subverts Norse mythology and molds it into a mirror image of today’s society.
Included, are big names taken from the Nordic and Christian pantheons, such as Fafnir, Balder, Odin, or the Four Horsemen – minus the horses – and even Lucifer. Although here, they are rock stars, gym owners, hipsters, or metalheads.
If the act of dismembering an arm to have it crawl through a tight tunnel is simply not funny enough; having to do so while escorting a goblin CEO of the multinational tasked with renovating hell, or being careful not to be noticed by furniture-loving zombies, certainly reaches a level of hilarity capable of fulfilling any and every standard out there.
The graphics are fitting to the spirit of the narrative. The drawings and animations are as well executed as they are burlesque. Furthermore, the use of color and light, as well as different planes of perspective, make the environments unique and almost three-dimensional, respectively – without ever compromising the optical scanning of platforms.
Controls are surprisingly simple yet effective, for something that might as well not have been, due to the inherent complexity of having to manipulate different body parts in different ways.
The interface displays everything that is needed, without cluttering too much of the screen. There is even the possibility of playing in cinematic mode. In this mode, no information is displayed on the screen, including those useful details that usually pops up. Therefore, and although it is an asset to be able to appreciate the graphic beauty of Helheim Hassle without visual hassles, it is not a recommended option for those who are exploring the game for the first time.
The soundtrack is good and in matching tone with the hilarious narrative, but it is the voice acting that is truly on point. All character dialogues, regardless of how trivial they might be, were voiced with an impressive level of excellence.
Hell for some, heaven for others
Helheim Hassle is certainly a must-have title for any puzzle platformer fan. Also, for those who simply enjoy good gameplay packed with dark, sarcastic, definitely brilliant, humor. All of this, wrapped with a certainly unprecedented theme.
For an Indie title of its kind, if not perfect, Helheim Hassle is very close to being it!
Original puzzle solving mechanic
A wide range of puzzles
Filled with humor
Impeccable voice acting
None to point out
Release Date: 18 August 2020
Developer: Perfectly Paranormal
Publisher: Perfectly Paranormal
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Plan of Attack. (Switch)