Amon Amarth’s self-titled phone game is confounding. There’s a spirit of fun underpinning the enterprise; this is, after all, the same band that used to play live on a model of a Viking longship that spewed steam and had glowing red eyes. Also, it's the same band that undercut the dramaticism of their mythology-inspired death metal concept records with an EP of stylized pastiches of their favorite bands and that released bobbleheads of themselves for no other reason than the fun of it.

Basically, Amon Amarth do a great job of taking themselves the right amount of serious: not enough to come across as cartoonish, but not so little as to undermine the drama of their work. In that light, releasing an ultra-violent retro action platformer with chiptune versions of their death metal jams feels very much in keeping with that celebratory spirit.



The problem, of course, is that the game is bad.

This isn’t Amon Amarth’s fault, really. They’re musicians, not game developers, and the point of this game wasn't seemingly to go toe-to-toe with either the "pop-mobile" classics like Angry Birds or the more hardcore games like Fire Emblem Heroes and Star Wars: Galaxy At War. Equivocations about respecting the spirit of the game aside, there are some fairly substantial flaws.

One of them is the price point: the first level is free, but to play beyond that requires a single payment of $8.99. For a console game, that would be a decently discounted price for a downloadable title, where prices hover between $15 and $20 per title. For mobile games, however, this is a substantial cost.

Most mobile games are free with small payment exclusives or boosts ("microtransactions"), a frustrating model for sure, but one that allows people to access the meat of the game before making a financial decision about it. Some, though, have a small immediate price, usually between $1 and $5. This is a key component of the success of mobile games; there are more expensively priced games, but those tend to be extensions of known franchises or mobile ports of console games, such as Jonathan Blow’s cerebral puzzle masterpiece The Witness.

Amon Amarth having their game placed in this category is a confounding decision, but one that could be justified, if not for the second issue.

The game isn’t terribly fun. Again, this isn’t Amon Amarth’s fault, but it’s hard to be compelled into spending $9 for such a bare-bones, auto-running action platformer. The platforming isn’t terribly challenging (when the game works properly), and the responsiveness of jumping doesn’t provide enough feedback for you to estimate subsequent jumps well. This is an unspoken part of handling the mechanics of a game, especially something like a platformer, where technical precision is necessary.

Games have existed for decades now, and most people who play them rely on skills and estimations they can port over from experience to experience to keep from having to relearn all the fundamentals of games every time they play a new one. The jumping in Amon Amarth’s mobile game is simultaneously too floaty and inestimable in its horizontal movement due to the auto-run feature, making landing on platforms without tumbling into pits or spikes harder than it would be for any other game. The relative blandness of the combat is alleviated by the lushness of the pixel art and the honest-to-goodness fun of the songs' chiptune renditions, but the fundamentals of the game are just a bit too frustrating to really warrant the $9 price tag.

The most astonishing issue of the game, however, was that it was briefly literally impossible to play.

Levels are gated based on the completion of the previous level, like in most platformers. And, like a lot of games, this mobile app opens with a mandatory tutorial level with animated signs in the background to acclimate the player to the specific controls and design scheme of the game. But, prior to an update, you simply couldn’t jump high enough (even with a double jump) to clear a required leap, literally making the tutorial impossible.

So, for a week, I booted up the game, listened to the same chiptune play over and over, and attempted a perfectly safe but mechanically impossible jump until I eventually gave up and went back to Zelda. I’ve played games too long to simply chalk this up as a mechanical failure: blaming the game instead of your own skills is the way of the scrub, the detestable excuse of weaklings and cowards who have not yet mastered the True Gamer’s Art. But, given the amount of times I attempted the level, only to soar majestically like a goddamn eagle over the exact same jump after an update, made me wonder if perhaps this was actually a known issue.

Regardless, finally finishing the mandatory tutorial only to be asked to pay $9 for the pleasure of continuing left a sour taste in my mouth. Therefore, I can’t recommend the game.

The positives still have merit, however. Amon Amarth deserve credit for their continual playfulness and willingness to wear their influences on their sleeves, extending now to classic video games, an "open secret" influence for a vast number of metal bands. This was their first outing, and there’s nothing to say they won’t try again later with better results. The venerable Iron Maiden, for instance, dropped an absolutely godawful game with the special edition of The Final Frontier only to deliver a rather satisfying strategy RPG for mobile devices more recently.

If Amon Amarth choose not to correct their error, it will still go down as another fun tchotchke delivered by a band that respects the idea that metal can be as fun as it is serious. Evidently, even a failure can be a success in a certain way.

-- Langdon Hickman


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