The Vikings have acquired something of a bad image in the annals of history, but when you consider their key interests were rape and pillage, it's a deserved reputation.

Thankfully, the jolly bunch of boat-loving warriors that star in Viking Tales: Mystery of Black Rock are a little more affable: they only resort to violence when their homes and livelihoods are threatened by the evil Scummson clan.

Historical accuracy has been thrown overboard in this light-hearted iPhone nautical romp in favour of a generous helping of action, adventure, and exploration.

Row, row, row your boat

You take the helm of a Viking longboat, complete with heavily-bearded crew and a capable set of cannons, controlled via swipes.

Draw a line from the top of your ship to the bottom and your shipmates row furiously forwards. Conversely, drawing a line in the opposite direction applies the brakes, and another swipe puts your ship into reverse.

Turning left and right requires more thought. To turn your ship to the left you have to swipe downwards on the starboard side of the craft. However, drawing a line from bottom to top on the right-hand side causes the ship to turn to the right.

The system intends to replicate the effect of one set of oars driving through the water rather than both running in tandem, but it takes time to get your head around the concept.

Full speed ahead

In addition to these basic controls you can force your men to row faster by using two fingers to draw parallel lines down either side of the ship. This is useful during timed missions, but it consumes your crew's stamina, which is slow to recharge.

Of course, Vikings wouldn't be Vikings if they didn't indulge in a spot of violence and you can fire your ship's guns whenever an enemy craft comes within range.

Although there's a short recharge time between salvos, it's a straightforward affair: tap your opponent’s ship to launch a shot. This is a blessing, because you also have to steer your craft during these exchanges, lest you end up colliding with the enemy or an obstacle.

Each mission has a set objective ranging from obliterating an enemy to scooping up shipwrecked compatriots from the chilly water. There's good variety, which keeps the game feeling fresh.

Swipe and pillage

But the levels which see you fighting the clock can be frustrating, particularly during early stages when you're still coming to terms with the controls. Search-and-destroy missions are also fairly annoying. In these missions, you can fail the entire level by allowing your enemy to reach the edge of the map.

Later stages ramp up the difficulty considerably, which makes it essential that you spend gold earned during each stage to update your ship's speed, protection, crew stamina, and shot power.

With unlockable achievements for Game Center service, Viking Tales has considerable longevity. The urge to acquire all of the various medals is considerable, and keeps you playing even when you become intensely frustrated by the occasionally unfair level of challenge.

Nevertheless, once you complete all of the stages there's little reason to return to Viking Tales. It's undeniably fun while it lasts, but this is a voyage you only want to take once.