Since the release and subsequent internet explosion of Manual Samuel back in 2016, the team at Perfectly Paranormal have taken an almost four-year break for their most ambitious title yet. Whilst Samuel had a novel idea, its flaws were a little too obvious for a thoroughly smooth experience. Helheim Hassle is a work that clearly comes from an innate understanding of this criticism. It is more polished, has more content and is an all-round better game because of it.
Helheim Hassle is set on the same Tuesday as Manual Samuel and wraps around that original story in interesting ways. Helheim Hassle opens with a Viking singing a taunting song against invading giants before being promptly massacred by a swift giant boot. It follows this Viking through the air before setting eyes on our real protagonist, Bjorn. The entire scenario is imbued with this sense of dark humour because Bjorn desperately wants to avoid battle whilst all the townsfolk want to intentionally die to get into heaven. The world is filled with fire, swords and all sorts of noise as you slowly fade it out. You stumble on a cave with a man and his rock. After giving him a pair of trousers, you make your way further to your great escape. Bjorn decides to climb high above into the trees to get a vantage point and make his way out unseen. This adventure is brought to a halt as you discover a bridge. In true video game fashion, it is rickety and dangerous, leaving Bjorn plummeting to his death after a rogue feather proves to be just enough weight to send it hurtling into the abyss below, taking both Bjorn and a wild bear with it.
One might assume you’ve made a mistake and must repeat this section, but Helheim Hassle doesn’t operate in this way. A central part of the universe itself is death and the afterlife. In a vain attempt to avoid dying and going to Valhalla, Bjorn lands on a cow and accidentally finds himself a sweet spot in Valhalla as Bjorn, the bear killer. The humour in Helheim Hassle is rather mixed. I personally enjoyed the set up and black humour a great deal but the game touts itself as a comedy so sometimes gets a little too distracted in making every moment funny. This can see it occasionally come off as forced but ultimately rather charming as it wears its innate goofiness on its sleeve, just like Paranormal’s previous title. After spending hundreds of years forcefully held in the party zone that is Valhalla, Bjorn is resurrected by Pesto, one of the devil’s servants who plans to take a trip out to Helheim. You are brought to help with both directions and language – Pesto’s personal tour guide.
Your role as a tour guide is multifaceted. No skill emphasises this greater than Helheim’s central mechanic. Working like a much less gruesome The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories, you can attach and detach limbs at will; as you aren’t really alive or dead as Bjorn, your body has a physical form but is not stopped by death or dismemberment.
The puzzles start out easy with small holes only certain body parts can fit through or jumps you can only make whilst under a certain weight. But things soon get much tougher. Rolling your head around in snow to make it larger or tactically throwing limbs and catching them mid-air lend a certain depth to the formula. Helheim Hassle’s great way of balancing the grotesque with the funny works just as well as it did in Manual Samuel. There are some subtly dark tones like Vikings rushing to their death loaded on a promise of a better afterlife, but this is immediately displaced by one-liners and crazy visuals.
Distractions run rampant in Helheim Hassle. It goes to great lengths to deal with one of Manual Samuel’s biggest issues – its linear nature and short game length. There are a multitude of optional sidequests that shape the world in small ways. For instance, giving the man in the cave at the start of the game his pants unlocks different paths and quests later on. This is optional and, therefore, entirely missable, yet it gives a certain replayability to the base game and that in turn helps with the overall difficulty. The base game of Helhiem Hassle is not particularly tricky but getting those optional secrets and quests can be. This is a great way to deal with difficulty. It leaves the option for those who are looking for it but you can finish proceedings without taking on that difficulty.
Unfortunately, the platforming isn’t always solid and thought-out. The level design, for the most part, is rather good but there are a few puzzles that can be skipped with well-timed jumps or throws. The platforming tends to feel a little floaty too, which is a shame for some of the more tight and controlled sections. When issues with platforming or puzzles stem from gameplay and not decisions, it takes some of the growth out of your playtime. This is further enunciated with limb combos. You can attach certain limbs together to solve puzzles and this may mean you might attach an arm and leg together so it can jump high, but also climb to get to the next objective. Occasionally, the platforming with certain combinations feels a bit inaccurate.
There are plenty of little decisions made throughout Helheim Hassle that make the overall experience that much better. The addition of optional missions and a fully-fledged fast travel system mean you can move back and forth through the game at will. This is great as it allows you to go back and take in missions you wanted to save until later. The way the story interconnects with Samuel’s makes me genuinely curious to see what Perfectly Paranormal come up with next, and its general weirdness is sure to leave an impression on you.
Whilst there are some issues with platforming, some annoying jokes and inconsistent level design, Helheim Hassle on Xbox One is a great example of how far Perfectly Paranormal have come as a team. It could realistically be seen as extra content with the formula Samuel set beforehand, but instead it adapts from it and grows. Helheim is just as wacky and strange as Manuel Samuel yet offers so much more to keep you playing.