Die for Valhalla isn’t just a name: death will occur often in this cartoonish 2D brawler. Inspired by Castle Crashers, indie developer Monster Couch’s game pits you and up to three friends against waves of enemies. There are a few takes on the genre, including roguelike elements and a possession mechanic, but the question is how Die for Valhalla fares with these twists.
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
In a plot loosely based on Norse mythology, you play as a novice Valkyrie trying to save her realm from an enemy invasion. Every 2D isometric level is procedurally generated; the enemies, setting, and special events, such as horde battles and shrine defense, are all randomly determined by an algorithm. Even the world map is randomly generated. I had no issues with the layouts, but levels felt less tightly assembled and memorable than in other games with a more constructed design. Nevertheless, much of the gameplay is simply hack-and-slash, so it isn’t a deal breaker. Battle consists of using combos of weak and strong attacks, as well as smart use of parrying and magic nukes, to defeat your foes. The smooth, intuitive controls support the fast gameplay, and I never had issues with hitboxes or aiming.
Your Valkyrie has limited strength, but she has the special power to possess the bodies of dead Vikings. It’s less gruesome than it sounds. By mashing a button near a tombstone, you become a new character, inheriting his or her weapon and powers. There are seven classes of Vikings, including the standard sword fighter, long-range bow wielder, and magic user. Each has a unique playstyle, but you can only bring a predetermined set of three classes into each level. And since you have to unlock other sets, known as clans, you’ll likely be stuck with the base three classes for much of your playthrough. Still, having three different playstyles at your disposal provides great flexibility. Plus, if your Viking dies, or if you decide you need a change, you revert to your Valkyrie form and can inhabit another corpse. You can even possess an inanimate bush or barrel and eventually enemies. As long as your Valkyrie remains alive, you can repossess over and over. Switching characters mid-battle produces a dynamic flow, especially in multiplayer.
The possession mechanic may imply a lack of character differentiation, but Die for Valhalla actually features enjoyable upgrade customization. As you defeat enemies, you gain Glory points, and you level up after you’ve amassed enough. Each upgrade has two steps. In the first, you raise your four stats by choosing a path in an engaging miniature puzzle board. The second step lets you gain one of five skills randomly chosen from a pool of over 80. It’s satisfying to build a repertoire of amazing abilities, but the random element may be discouraging for players who like to min/max. There’s still some agency in choosing upgrades, but it’s limited and hard to plan around.
Why this matters is because the Hardcore mode in Die for Valhalla is rogue-lite, which means your progress is completely erased when you lose. Regardless of how far you are or how strong your character has become, if your Valkyrie dies, it’s a permanent game over. Between hard boss encounters and obtainable potions that occasionally harm you instead of help, the game quickly gets brutal, and you may need to grind just to feel safe. The rogue-lite mode isn’t for everyone, but the intense challenge will be a rush for players who are willing to try.
Thankfully, there is also a Normal difficulty setting, a much easier mode in which death simply takes you out of the level, and your progress stays intact. The world map is larger, but even then, a first playthrough only takes about eight to ten hours, not including going for completion. I preferred the non rogue-lite mode, though Die for Valhalla’s procedural generation suggests the game is designed for it. As a result, the standard difficulty feels dull at times. Without that risk, the fighting grew tedious, yet with permadeath, it felt overly stressful.
Luckily, there’s multiplayer co-op, in which up to four local players can experience the game together. Anyone can join in or drop out at any point as the four playable Valkyries have individual stats. The only penalty for inactive players is missing out on level-ups. Having more players didn’t seem to significantly change the enemy strength. However, there were moments in single-player that seemed overwhelming or unfair – for example – an infinite loop of spiders freezing me in place. Having a partner to bail me out of tight situations helped, not to mention couch co-op reduced tedium and was overall more enjoyable. Though, be warned that in Hardcore mode, any individual player’s death results in a permanent loss, whereas in Normal difficulty, you can revive dead Valkyries. This game lacks online, so you’ll have to rely on having local friends to play with.
There’s also a Deathmatch mode that allows you and your friends to fight each other in Viking possession battles. It’s not deep, and as a minigame outside the main campaign, it’s not engaging beyond the initial match.
Die for Valhalla features colorful set pieces and cartoonish designs, from the humorous Lovecraftian enemies to the comic styled Vikings. There were some instances of lag, but the game otherwise performed smoothly both on the TV and the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode. The medieval score sounded fine and fit well with the setting, but its generic tunes faded into the background.
Die for Valhalla makes a valiant effort to stand out from other 2D beat-em-ups. What it provides won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, though. The possession mechanic gives true meaning to dying for Valhalla, and it produces a unique battle flow if you don’t mind the revolving door of characters. The random world, level design, and skill selections ensure different playthroughs but also result in a less memorable experience. And it takes a dedicated group to tackle the stressful but exhilarating permadeath rogue-lite mode. Regardless, Die for Valhalla scratches that Castle Crashers itch and is a great choice for those seeking that co-op brawler gameplay.
Note: A review copy was provided for this article.