Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: iOS, PS4, XBox One, Steam
Developer: Rocket Cat Games & Madgarden
Publisher: Ukiyo Publishing
Website: Official Website
PS4 Review (played on a PS4 Pro)
“I can’t wait to die and go to Valhalla, dawg!” “If I’m lucky, I’m gonna catch a giant spear right in the eye!”
Making its way to the PlayStation after first appearing on the Switch (with a brilliant trailer that won’t let you forget which console it’s coming to), from the very instant the game boots up it simply exudes a comedic charm that immediately recalls the styles of games such as Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. With an attitude towards the hallmarks of classic puzzle games, Helheim Hassle has a wonderfully refreshing take on it by calling it out as being over the top and ludicrous in the best way possible and it’s this aspect that kept me invested in seeing just how far they were going to take it with how the puzzles were set up and the execution in which they would be solved.
You play as Bjoharn, a viking that doesn’t share the dream of dying as soon as possible in battle in order to spend an eternity in Valhalla. That idea just sounds too stressful and not at all fun and so as the opening battle ensues and the village runs off to meet their desired fate, you instead head in the other direction to lay low till it all blows over. However it doesn’t work out quite as planned and instead he ends up dying and being accepted into Valhalla by the Allfather himself. When you’re resurrected some fair few years later by your soon-to-be-companion Pesto who needs you to translate the way into Helheim, your limbs are not quite as reattached as you might have hoped. Instead they serve as the main mechanics for solving the puzzles that the game throws at you, finished or unfinished (such is every character’s intent to create as many traps as possible and use them in any way they see fit) which leads to many puzzles to overcome.
“Wait! What are you doing?! You’re exploiting the mechanics?!
As a port from a Switch game, the controls translate nicely to a PlayStation controller through the use of the analogues and shoulder buttons as your primary way of detaching limbs and selecting which ones to use in any given situation. From time to time there is a rare instance of picking up the wrong body part if all selectable items are too close together but this does nothing to impact the fun of the game or the progress of the puzzles. However, after a short amount of time with the game in some of the more interactive puzzles that require the separate use of multiple limbs, it becomes more comfortable and seeing a way through the puzzles becomes second nature. You’ll never be stuck on a puzzle for too long as the way they’re laid out allows for complete experimentation as well as many variations of which limbs to use on platforms and even if you get it wrong the time to reset is almost instant and you’re once again free to put together any combination you choose.
Visuals, Music & Voices
The combination of character design and voice acting lead to memorable characters that you meet along the way and when you run into them later in the game you can’t help but feel excitement about getting to interact with them again. Be it a failed puzzle designer or the talking head that greets you at the door in the opening minutes, even when you recognise characters in the background of other locations that are having their own conversation based on what is currently going on, there’s a constant charm to every character interaction. The sound design deserves a huge credit as well, as the removal and combinations of body parts sound suitably squishy whilst not being overly gross. And when you’re acting as a limb away from your body, the surround sound of where the voice is coming from maintains the ambient immersion. The themes, whilst subtle, are incredible catchy as well and more than once I found I was humming a tune from the opening level when I was doing something else after playing.
The art direction has a beautifully colourful style that makes you want to look at every nook and cranny you explore. From details in both the foreground and background, there’s always something on the screen that compliments the world the developers have built whether you’re in a forest, a frozen building site or even in the stomach of another character that you have to get past to progress. The map and codex pages you can access as well throughout the game are easy to navigate and make returning to earlier stages for the hidden collectibles you can only access with certain limbs incredibly easy and quick.
There’s also a great level of detail in the world too. As you pass through the opening stages and the road construction, the first goblin you meet has a “ur dad” tattoo. There’s also a goblin reading a book and you’re able to read the entire blurb on the back if you look close enough and there’s machines in the background completing the road renovations that really brings the world to life and it’s all packed with the same level of charm and humour.
As a port from an initial Switch game, there isn’t much in the way of settings to change outside of the basic preferences such as audio and subtitles, so there are no missed features depending on your platform of choice. One great addition though is that of a Cinematic Mode that removes the onscreen hud so that you can immerse yourself further in the game and the puzzles without feeling like the game is holding your hand too much, but I’d only recommend that for a second playthrough or at the very least once you’ve got control of all the limbs and the combinations you can put together. It’s a great feature that allows the already strong art direction to shine even further.
The games contains a number of many unique elements for its interpretation of characters in Norse mythology as well as the way it depicts Valhalla too. The eternal battles that take place are all done via online gaming in an MMO style with a thousand command inputs on keyboards being hit in unison. A few of the elements that brought a smile to my face were the characters mouth movements over certain words that had a brilliantly cartoonish aspect to them, the line of sight from an npc that changed as you threw your head past them and they kept their sight on you as they completed their dialogue and many subtle references in the backgrounds of levels can be discovered too. Returning to the game when continuing a playthrough also brings up unique dialogue at the main menu telling you it’s good to see you again or that you look older today. Trophy wise there’s also a lot to enjoy as you’ll end up getting a number of them by simply progressing, exploring and experimenting with limb combinations and it doesn’t feel like you’re grinding by going out of your way when the world is so much fun to be in.
Currently this is on sale on the PSN right now and if you’re interested it’s definitely worth picking up and playing. If you’re a fan of puzzle games or even if you want to return to the nostalgic feeling of games such as Maniac Mansion, Helheim Hassle is a great game to play that pokes fun at the rigid structures of puzzle games and is a release that I’ve had a lot of fun with.