Review for Helheim Hassle
When a game comes along with a premise as charmingly absurd as “an undead Viking can remove and reconfigure his limbs at will to solve puzzles in Viking Hell,” you can only hope that the actual experience will live up to even a fraction of that promise. Helheim Hassle isn’t perfect—not every joke lands, controls can be confusing with so many body parts to manage, and there may be some frustrating moments for adventure game fans that aren’t used to side-scrolling action—but I can’t imagine a better limb-based narrative-adventure-puzzle-platformer. The characters are funny, the challenges are clever, and the game is always fully aware of how silly it is.
You play as Bjørn, a young Viking in a village full of people eager to get slaughtered by giants and sent to Valhalla for eternity . . . but you’re not interested in all of that. You’re content to hide in a cave until the giants are gone and you can go back to your regular life, and all seems to be going well until a branch breaks under your feet and sends you falling right on top of a bear. Next thing you know, you’re waking up as a ghost, looking over your limbless body on the ground. Your day didn’t quite go according to plan.
After finding and reattaching your arms and legs, you make your way over to the gate of Helheim, or “Viking Hell.” But there seems to be a problem: you’re regarded as a brave hero, not a coward who accidentally fell to his death. Valhalla is where you’re meant to be, you’re told, since you killed a bear with only your bare hands—well, your entire body, to be accurate. It doesn’t take long to understand that Valhalla is not the place for you (Odin’s obsession with battle and first-person shooters doesn’t mesh well with your pacifist nature), and when a skeleton named Pesto brings you back to life (sort of), you realize that you can remove and reattach your body parts at will. So begins your quest to find the ruler of Helheim and ask if you can stay there for eternity instead.
Players familiar with Norse mythology will enjoy the comedic renditions of gods and other figures—Odin, for instance, is a hardcore gamer with a man bun, while his son Balder is a rock-and-roll singer with long blond hair perpetually flowing behind him as if he’s in zero gravity—but even without any prior knowledge of the legends, Helheim Hassle has plenty of funny, memorable characters. All are fully voice-acted, and the actors generally perform well, with some contributing laugh-out-loud funny moments. A standout for me was when Bjørn’s mom drops her voice to a low, guttural growl to announce her eagerness to get slayed by a giant. I did find the skeleton Pesto’s abrasive voice fairly grating though, which is frustrating considering the size of her role in the game, but even this is delivered with satisfying comic timing and personality.
The humor is abundant and often quite dark, which feels appropriate for a game about an undead Viking with detachable limbs. With the number of jokes the game is throwing out at all times, it’s expected that some won’t be as effective as others, but on the whole the comedy hits more than it misses. Helheim Hassle often breaks the fourth wall, poking fun at itself as well as video game convention. “Let me know if you want me to repeat everything in the exact same words and tone of voice,” a goblin woman says after explaining the mechanics of a more complex puzzle.
The bright, hand-painted art style suits the game’s tone very well, with charming character designs that often include little comic details like a record store shelf with an album from a band called Alien Antler Farm, and a goblin with an arrow-pierced heart tattoo reading “UR DAD.” The frenetic pace and joke-a-minute style of the frequent cutscenes certainly reminded me of a cartoon and the developers at Perfectly Paranormal back up the whimsical presentation and gleefully silly writing with creative gameplay and clever puzzles.
Your afterlife body is split into six parts: two legs, two arms, a head, and a torso. After progressing through the tutorial and a few opening puzzles, you will be able to detach and combine (almost) any of these parts to help you overcome a variety of imaginative obstacles. Each different combination—an arm and a leg, a torso and head, two arms and a head—has different abilities that will force you to think about which of your parts will do the job. There are a few limits to the combinations you can make; you can’t have two arms and a leg, for example, but most other mixes are allowed, and I found myself discovering more even after spending hours with the game. Some run faster, some jump higher, some puzzles require a head to talk or an arm to pull a lever. Fortunately, there is an in-game codex that lists every new combination (and their strengths and weaknesses) as you discover them. After a while you’ll likely get a feel for which arrangements do what the best, but it’s nice to have a list in case you forget.
In addition to the codex, you have an inventory with quest items and money you can use to purchase other necessary materials, a list of your current tasks, a map (complete with fast travel courtesy of a taxi driver you meet along your journey), and a tab for letters you’ve collected around the world. The letter collectibles are optional, mainly serving to provide a few laughs and bits of worldbuilding. There are a few other items to find as well, such as Soul Coins you can spend to play short, delightful parodies of popular video games at Puzzle Con, and different heads you can find and put on to access some secret areas.
You can also gather different kinds of berries from bushes located throughout the world, which you can then use to make smoothies that permanently boost your abilities (and some may even help you see things you might otherwise miss), though they are also completely optional. There are ten different kinds of berries to collect, and ten of any one kind will allow you to make a smoothie. The locations of these berries are helpfully marked on your map, and the fast travel system makes it easy to go back and get them all. I’m not usually someone who bothers with collectibles in games, but I found myself wanting to run around the world of Helheim Hassle to find all its secrets.
The puzzles themselves are enjoyable brainteasers, though they tend to be on the easy side. You’ll pick up items and speak to characters to complete the more standard adventure game puzzles—talking someone into doing something for you, tricking a guard into letting you into a bar, or finding the keycode to a door, for example—but your goal in each case is simply to reach the other side of whatever obstacle is in your way. There are even a number of fourth-wall-breaking jokes about the puzzles and their relative lack of a purpose, with goblins complaining that their puzzles aren’t done yet, or insisting on doing some last-minute tweaking before they’ll let you try to solve them. Players looking for an extra challenge can choose to play through some more difficult optional puzzles, which you’ll unlock at around the halfway mark of your playthrough.
Along the way you’ll need to do some light running, jumping and climbing, and there are a number of tasks that resemble a standard puzzle-platformer—with the added twist of limb-detaching mechanics, of course—requiring you to place a certain amount of weight or a particular body part on a pressure pad that will then unlock the door. Far less traditional is having to toss your limbs up on surfaces too high for your whole body to reach, and combining your parts if you need to jump farther or run faster.
Throwing your limbs around is a big part of solving many of Helheim Hassle’s puzzles; you need at least one arm available to pick up whichever part you want to toss, and to help aim you are shown a line representing its trajectory as you prepare to throw it. The parts that aren’t in use simply sit where you left them, waiting to be reattached or controlled if need be. You can switch control to any of your limbs, no matter how far away they are—though if you want to move to another of the game’s four distinct areas, all your limbs will have to come with you. Most of the time, though, you tend to be much more capable with things rearranged or removed.
This isn’t a fiendishly difficult platformer, but it does require a degree of dexterity and timing for a decent number of puzzles. As someone familiar with platformers but not necessarily great at them, I found the physical demands to be generally pretty manageable. The only real frustrating moments are during the handful of chase sequences, where you must quickly figure out how to solve a puzzle in your way as you run from an enemy. With these sequences, you only have time for about one attempt at a solution, so it becomes tedious to die and repeat over and over if you don’t happen to see the right solution on your first try or two. Even with that said, Helheim Hassle is more interested in testing your creative thinking than your patience, and so moments like these are the exception rather than the rule over the course of the game.
The developers have done a good job of keeping puzzles fresh and inventive. After you solve a few challenges involving pressure pads and cliffs where you need to throw your head around, you’ll get a puzzle set in a gym full of monsters, whose weights are tied to platforms you must move through the area. Moving these platforms requires you to interact with the monsters in different ways, one of which requires you to have your head with you, while another might necessitate having at least one arm attached. There are a good number of silly, out-of-the-box challenges like this one to break up the more “standard” puzzles. Not all of the unique puzzles are equally fun to play—I wasn’t a huge fan of a stealth sequence where you must sneak past furniture-obsessed undead draugrs, for instance—but they tend to be short enough to not overstay their welcome.
Controls can be a bit frustrating at times, as managing and switching between up to six different parts can be confusing, but I suppose that comes with the territory. There are some welcome features that help, such as showing a small icon with the part you’re about to select when you hold down a button to switch between them. Though I tested the keyboard controls, which work perfectly well, I played with a controller and would recommend that to anyone who has one available. It feels more natural that way to navigate the world, engage in light platforming, and switch between limbs—up on the D-Pad for the head, left for the left arm, right for the right arm, and so on.
The environments you’ll explore are always nice to look at, with clean, vibrant 2D art. There is a nice variety of locations, including a Boar Café, the insides of a dragon’s body, a goblin construction site, and a bar/comedy club owned and frequented by dragons. Character animation is fluid, cartoon-like, and always lively, from the disembodied hand skittering around to the high-energy showmanship of a musical sequence early on. The soundtrack is equally well done, with a pleasing, woodwind-heavy score that isn’t showy but is nice to listen to as you explore the absurd, silly world of Helheim Hassle. Voice acting is good across the board.
In the roughly ten hours I spent with the game (including extra time searching for collectibles and hidden areas; I would imagine a normal playthrough would run closer to seven hours), I was consistently entertained. It’s important to know that this is a puzzle-platformer as much as it is an adventure game, so it does require more dexterity and (occasionally) speed than the average point-and-click. A few of the sequences that aim to break up the more standard puzzle-solving can be frustrating, and controlling up to six body parts isn’t always intuitive, but the charming narrative, stylish presentation, and inventive puzzles make the experience enjoyable and ensure that Helheim Hassle makes good on its promising premise.