8-Bit Viking Metal
Thor. Legendary giant slayer, wielder of Mjölnir, defender of Asgard, and now pocket-sized hero. Developer Ride & Crash and Norse-themed death metal legends Amon Amarth write a love letter to early ‘90s gaming. With a mighty red beard, abs of iron, and surprisingly tiny legs, you’ll play as the Thunder God himself, slaying all manner of creatures in this side-scrolling adventure.
Set to 8-bit versions of Amon Amarth tunes, you’ll move Thor through four beautifully crafted worlds of Norse mythology. Each realm is broken down into three levels and a final boss, with levels named after an Amon Amarth song. The band’s obvious and heavy influence is not only prevalent in the audio and visuals but also in the brutality of the game. As with its ‘90s forefathers, you can expect to die a lot.
The game’s controls rely on a simple three-button scheme. The left button jumps, middle is your screen-clearing lighting attack, and the right button tosses Thor’s hammer. Touching the screen on either side moves Thor in that direction and he won’t stop until you press a different direction. This is my only gripe with the controls and it takes some getting used to.
Beasts of Asgard
Norse mythology talks of nine realms. Amon Amarth has four: Midgard, Muspelheim, Jotunheim, and Helheim. Each realm is broken into three levels and has a legendary beast from Norse myth as a boss. Midgard, the forest world, has Fenrir and his many wolves (also boars, because why not). Muspelheim is a land of fire and has flame elementals, fire dogs, and the flame giant Surtur.
Jötunheim is the mountainous home of the ice giants, where you’ll face the serpent Nidhogg. Lastly is Helheim, underworld and home of the dead, whose boss is Hel, Loki’s daughter and goddess of the underworld.
In addition to themed enemies, you’ll also encounter environmental hazards. There are the standard spikes, pits, and floating platforms, as well as jumping puzzles and ravens that swoop out of the sky. To jazz up the scenery, most of the hazards match the theme of the level. Hopping up the icy platforms of Jötunheim and avoiding the fiery pits of Muspelheim help to keep the old standards fresh.
Boasts and Mead
Amon Amarth has some surprisingly complex combat mechanics and satisfying movement. What a lot of platformers lack is a weighty and satisfying double jump. Too often games have a jump that’s floaty and imprecise, or a jumping arc that’s lower and shorter than you feel the game should have. It leads to a disconnect with the flow of the game, but Amon Amarth has the perfect weight and precision, which is great since you’ll be using it all the time.
Mjölnir, or “Face Crusher” as I affectionately call it, is the bread and butter of the game. It’s immensely satisfying to toss it right into the face of a wolf or take down an ice giant with a well-timed series of throws. The hammer will fly out and return to wherever you are, allowing you to chain together hits on multiple enemies and kill many lower level ones in a single toss. You also get a lightning attack that wipes enemies from the screen. A blue meter refills on every kill and flashes when you’re ready to bring the thunder. Once you get a feel for the hammer and chaining kills, you’ll be able to clear the screen every few minutes.
Mead barrels refill the health bar and are evenly spaced throughout the levels. One barrel restores the whole health bar and they are usually found just before major fights and at midpoints. Barrels are not always obviously placed, but finding one will treat you to a small animation of Thor downing the barrel and smashing it between his hands.
Curses of Gungir
Amon Amarth is not without its flaws. A lack of directional buttons makes some of the more precise platforming difficult and the auto run will have Thor running into spikes and off of cliffs. Checkpoints show up at the first quarter of the level, in the middle, and just before the boss. You’ll be forced to reload and retry these sections over and over again. Dying also resets your score on the leaderboard. If you’re looking for that achievement, you might find yourself getting frustrated. If you miss one, don’t fret; the game gives out a constant stream of achievements.
Enemies have a tendency to swarm, pushing you to the furthest edge of the screen and have hitboxes seemingly larger than their sprites, causing you to die from being touched quite often. Different sized opponents have higher hit points, but are hard to distinguish from the “normal” enemies and can take up to three hits to kill. There’s a small section in the main menu that explains it, but a blurb or tutorial in the beginning of the game would’ve helped much more.
One of the main drawbacks is not having a story. While Thor doesn’t need motivation to smash giants, a little story could’ve added more to the atmosphere and given a better motive to continue playing. There’s a rich and deep pool of Norse myth to call on and any one of those stories would’ve been nice to see.
Wrap It Up!
Amon Amarth is on the shorter side and takes about four hours to get through the main campaign. In that short time, though, it still manages to be a fun and satisfying experience. The worlds are interesting and visually appealing, the sprite style makes it light and cute, and the combat is enjoyable. I found the difficulty to be on par with other games in the genre, only spiking during boss battles and interspersed through normal levels. It’s the only game I’ve encountered that makes Vikings and death metal cute.
Is it Hardcore?
Absolutely. Adorable visuals, satisfying gameplay, and a great soundtrack make Amon Amarth worth playing.