The original Valhalla was met with a mixed reception when it was first released. There were those who loved it and those who absolutely hated it. And then there were those who just weren't sure - me included! While I appreciated the skilful programming, the original idea and the fact that this was the developer's first project, at the same time I couldn't help but find it extremely irritating.
And now it's back in the for of a 'before the war' prequel - in other words, it takes place before the original. It's not actually the proper follow-up though, more a four level special edition to keep fans happy in the meantime.
Infinity was the bad guy that started all the trouble in the original, but this time round you get to play things from his point of view. The trouble starts because Infinity was born too late to be king and now he feels it's time to wreak his revenge on his brother who has been favourite for too long.
However, in an amateur psychology profile, Infinity isn't really bad, just misunderstood, a victim of society who has suffered as a result of his brother's popularity.
So the fact that he is plotting to kill him off in an attempt to get the throne is okay then is it? Right, fine.
When Valhalla was released it created a new game type - it wasn't the usual type of adventure, or a puzzler or a platformer. Despite its faults, it brought forward a new style of gaming and it was original at least! So how do the two compare?
Well, to be honest, in design they don't differ a great deal at all. Graphical style is very similar, the icon system identical and the basic principles the same. The main difference is the speech. Whereas the first had something closely resembling Porky Pig on acid, we now have the opposite. More the Incredible Hulk on hash.
Now though, if you don't like the speech at leas you can limit it to only the essential phrases, but this is pointless as it is meant to be a speech adventure - the game's main selling point! You can actually skip all the storyscreens and credits this time which is a welcome addition once you've seen it a couple of times.
Compared to other adventures like Simon the Sorcerer or Monkey Island that have wit, humour and charming graphics, I'm afraid I would quite happily sacrifice the speech for one of those games. It tries to be funny... but fails.
The game is based around the idea of puzzle solving. You find objects, interact with other characters and make the various connections with the clues. This is one of the elements that worked well in Valhalla: Before the War. They are all fairly logical and take more working out than the original, so it will provide longevity.
The icon system works well, especially as it is joystick controlled. However, I would have like to have been able to pick up an object and be told what it is rather than have to pick it up, click on the object and then click on the look icon. It's a small point but it makes a difference.
The main feature of this game is the speech. Fortunately, being a different character, the voice has been changed so that it is deep and slow, so it's slightly less irritating - but not much. Call me awkward but I really don't find repetitive whinging at all endearing. I'm afraid this grated on my nerves just as much as the original.
Yes, it's all a very clever concept and it does make a nice change to a textual adventure, but it is still annoying. Ney, it is nothing short of rude, in fact. Who needs verbal abuse from computer sprites? In parts he tells you "Don't be stupid." The rest of the time he grumbles and moans, such as "I hate this castle" or "My arm hurts". It's not amusing, it doesn't enhance the game and it bored me no end.
Thankfully, you can limit the sound to merely the essential phrases but then why buy a speech adventure in the first place? There is an impressive amount of speech involved - 4,250K's worth and over 1000 words - but in some places you have to replay them again, and again before you can make out the meaning. Then the character has the nerve to turn around and say "You know what this is" or "I've seen this before." Yes, I know. But if he could speak with some clarity for a change it would make a difference.
The background sounds are good, though, and add atmosphere to the game. Dramatic footsteps pound the corridors, water ripples, and birds tweet in the background. It's all the usual stuff but brings a nice touch to the proceedings.
Vulcan Software have already established a very distinctive graphical style for their games. Valhalla and the Lord of Infinity, Valhalla: Before the War and their Timeslip game, which is in development, all have this similar look.
Colours are limited to very dark, murky shades and although this sounds very bland, it works well. They create a very foreboding atmosphere which is adaptable to different scenarios. The characters aren't that great, though. They do speak in time due to Vulcan's Lip-Sync engine, which is something, but they don't really have any character or charm.
The top-down perspective has been used again and gives a good 3D look, but it's not without its fair share of problems. For example, sometimes it's hard to see what an object is, or whether an object is collectable or part of the set.
I must admit I'm very cynical. The idea was fine as far as it went... last time. There are people who loved the original and who will love more of the same. But for the average gamesplayer that's looking for a new adventure title, £35 for four levels is hardly the bargain of the year, especially as this isn't really the proper sequel - only something to keep you happy in between!
I don't know whether they expect fans to fork out this amount of money now and then fork another lot in a couple of months for the sequel or what, but it leaves me feeling very dubious. If you enjoyed the original you'll like this - it's more of the same thing.
To it's credit, all the levels are cleverly contained on separate disks so there's no swapping between levels. It's also hard disk installable and the puzzles did work quite nicely. But for me - and a lot of people in the office who kept telling me to turn the volume down - it just became too irritating.
It does leave me with the slight problem of how to mark this. I gave Valhalla and the Lord of Infinity 58 per cent and this does have some improvements. However, the price and the fact it's only an in-between edition makes me inclined to lower the mark significantly. And inevitably it loses its novelty value. For true Valhalla fans - who just happen to have £35 begging - only I think.