In 2016 Perfectly Paranomal gave the world Manual Samuel, an adventure game where the goofy hero was given a chance by Death to live again provided he could go 24-hours doing everything manually. 4-years later, Perfectly Paranormal are back with another unique experience in the form of Helheim Hassle, mixing the weird humour of Manual Samuel with an equally weird gameplay idea: what if you could detach all your limbs and control them? And while Helheim Hassle does actually take place at the same time as Manual Samuel, you don’t need to have ever played Perfectly Paranormal’s Prior work to enjoy this wholly barmy adventure. But is Helheim Hassle worth an arm and a leg? Does it even have a leg to stand on? Can it possibly get ahead of all the competition? Or is it just another h(armless) adventure game? Okay, I’ll stop now.
Vikings are pretty excited about the whole Valhalla thing, the glorious afterlife where they can feast and fight for all eternity, and all they have to do to get there is die in battle. In fact, they’re so eager to achieve entry to Valhalla that they aren’t too bothered about living their current lives, so when giants attack the village the Vikings charge out to meet them, screaming excitedly about how they hope to get squashed by a rock. Even poor Bjørn’s mother is eager to get destroyed by a giant. But Bjørn, well, he’s a pacifist. He doesn’t want to fight, and the idea of an afterlife filled with violence is about as appealing as the idea of being stomped on by an angry giant, so he quietly legs it out the back door. Things are going well until Bjørn accidentally falls off a cliff to his death. Normally this would mean a one-way trip to Helheim, the Viking version of Hell, but Bjørn manages to land on an innocent bear in the process of dying, and by the Viking rules that means he technically slew a bear single-handed and is thus worthy of Valhalla. Well….fuck.
Our story then picks up about a thousand years later when Pesto (short for Pestilence, as in one quarter of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) is on a mission to get to Helheim in order to get Satan’s new sword. But the road to Helheim is being renovated by Goblins who have filled the damn thing with puzzles, so somehow Pesto ends up resurrecting Bjørn, yanking him out of Valhalla in the process. Bjørn is pretty chuffed because Valhalla kind of sucks (it’s now turned into a bunch of doing “battle” in online shooters and downing energy drinks, all led by Odin who has turned into some sort of hipster) and quite likes the idea of getting to Helheim and staying there instead, where it’s a lot quieter. And so we have our adventure: Bjørn and Pesto must complete puzzles to get to Helheim, and along the way must deal with weird rocker Gods, Goblins ghost bears and more.
Bjørn has a bit of an advantage when it comes to solving the various conundrums conjured up by the Goblins, though; he can detach his head and limbs and control them individually, or even combine them in a variety of freaky ways. You can hurl your head into a platform or combine an arm and a leg into something that can jump and climb with ease. Most of the puzzles, then, involve standing on switches or pulling levers while figuring out what combinations of limbs to use. A fairly early puzzle, for example, involves a bunch of muscular demon things who are lifting weights. By using your arm you can tickle them, causing them to drop their weights, while your head can shout encouragement so that they put in extra effort and life their weight. As you tickle and chat, you move the rest of your body through the environment as routes open up. And Helheim Hassle does a good job of tweaking its mechanics as you go, adding new concepts that keep it interesting. You might roll your head around in the snow to form a massive snowball, or avoid furniture-loving Draug by using your legs to move a wardrobe around. Another interesting twist later involves donning a robot head so you can see the otherwise invisible laser walls.
The puzzles themselves are nicely designed, striking a good balance of challenge without being too absurdly frustrating. There were definitely moments than head my scratching my head as I held it in my arms, pondering whether a hurled leg might solve the issue or if I might have to consider leaving my arms dangling somewhere. That said, there were a couple of frustrating sections.
Juggling your severed limbs like a demented clown in a horror movie is usually fairly easy, but on the few occasions that Helheim Hassle asks for speed and precision the controls fall apart faster than Bjørn when he falls off a cliff. You detach and swap between your various body parts using the D-pad or you can use the right analogue stick. That’s fine, but attempting to detach, swap, pick up, move and remember where everything is while also trying to complete a chase sequence is a pain in the ass. You wind up fumbling your legs, attaching the wrong limbs to your head, throwing a hand by accident and constantly swapping over to the wrong body part. It’s sort of like being drunk. It makes the chases easily the word part of Helheim Hassle, though, and that’s a real shame.
Still, I enjoyed the rest of the gameplay, though it isn’t the most satisfying or fun puzzler around. Just yanking off my arms and combining them into the ultimate monkey-bar machine is hilarious. But it’s the story and zany characters that make the journey to Helheim worth it. The eclectic cast of nutjobs are an entertaining bunch and the acting is surprisingly strong throughout the whole game, and the writing is sharper than Odin’s moustache. There’s a mixture of Norse and Christian mythology with famous characters being wildly reimagined to fit into the crazy world of Helheim Hassle. And then there’s the layers of references to other games, movies and pop-culture, the kind that can so often feel lazy if not used right but that are deployed brilliantly in Helheim Hassle. There’s even fun jokes that pop up when you skip dialogue, making a potential replay more interesting.
With that said, I can’t see myself going back to Helheim Hassle, even just to tidy up some side-missions. While I did enjoy it, the puzzles never quite clicked with my personal preferences. I could never manage to properly lose myself in the game for an hour or two, usually growing a bit bored around the 30-minute mark.
Depending on how often you accidentally throw your head into the wrong hole, (we’ve all been there,) getting to credits will probably take around 4-7 hours. However, the fun doesn’t end there because there’s a lot of side-missions scattered around, many of them needing you to head back later to complete, plus a bunch of hidden areas and things to discover. Even once the credits roll there’s reasons to head back, like finding soul coins to help fund indie game developers who are busy making some very familiar projects that you can play in-game, including a side-scrolling Minecraft.
Graphically, there’s nothing too special to talk about, at least in a technical sense. The art-style reminds me of paper cut-outs, giving Helheim Hassle a rather unique look, even if it does also mean characters never quite look properly grounded to the world as they leap and climb. It’s kind of like watching a kid make a toy “climb” up a wall, miming the actions so that the toy looks like its floating up the wall.
Although I did play on the Playstation 5 there’s no PS5 native version of Helheim Hassle available, so the only feature of the console it can take advantage of is the speedy SSD for near instant loading times. Aside from that, it was smooth sailing with no bugs or glitches, and no framerate drops. I mean, the only problem I ran into was all my limbs detaching, but the game was fine.
Helheim Hassle didn’t blow my head off or anything, but it’s a fun time with sharp writing and a cast of absorbing characters. It’s the controls that let the game down a little, unable to keep up during the occasional chase sequence that pops up. Perhaps that’s a deliberate design decision, a way to represent how confusing it would be to have your limbs running around in different directions, but even if that was the case I still found it more frustrating than funny. Those moments are few and far between though, and the rest of the time Helheim Hassle is a blast,