Tiny Barbarian DX
You know a game means business when instead of a title screen, it starts off by throwing a never-ending horde of enemies at you until your character inevitably succumbs to the onslaught. Your valiant barbarian somehow survives the ordeal and after starting the game you have to help him turn the tables on some vultures that want him for lunch. After this rather rocky start it’s time for some pure platforming action to save the girl and exact some good old-fashioned revenge.
Tiny Barbarian DX is a game that sets out to provide a retro themed platform adventure without any of the twists and gimmicks associated with modern interpretations of the genre. You only need one button to jump and one button to attack the enemies with your sword. There are no special powers, complicated puzzles or ability upgrades to confuse the barbarian. All the barbarian has to do is make his way from left to right while killing anything that gets in his way.
The developer cites sword and sorcery style fiction such as Conan the Barbarian as sources of inspiration, but veteran players will also find that the game pays homage to dozens of classic platform titles. I don’t know if it is just the combination of retro, 8-bit style visuals and a rocking chiptune soundtrack but the game immediately made me feel like I was back in the glory days of the 2d platform genre.
This first episode (of four planned) pits the barbarian against the evil serpent lord and his minions. While playing I was reminded of titles such as Rygar, Mega Man, Battletoads, Prince of Persia and even Elevator Action believe it or not. These games are certainly not bad company to keep and it speaks volumes about the quality of Tiny Barbarian DX that I can mention it in the same breath without any hesitation.
You spend most of your time jumping around slashing enemies, so it is a good thing that the controls are very responsive. Enemies all have their own patterns which you have to learn, but your barbarian has a three hit combo attack that can lay waste to his opponents. His sole “special” move is a vicious elbow drop that requires precision to pull off but is useful for enemies that have a longer reach such as the spearmen. Some enemies lob fireballs at you which can be batted back with your sword while others, such as the annoyingly bats that flap about endlessly over some platforms, brought back not so fond memories of Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania.
When you are not bashing heads in you can collect coins for extra points and smash blocks to reveal health giving meat. Occasionally you’ll also encounter a bag carrying gnome that in true Golden Axe tradition can be mugged for coins and food. Levels are filled with spike pits so you need to hone your jumping skills if you want to get through unscathed. The challenge steadily increases, but the game is rather generous with checkpoints and even provides you with full health if you continue so it never becomes too frustrating. Just be careful when you exit the game as only the first checkpoint of the level is saved so if you quit close to the end of a level you will lose a lot of progress.
The game features some entertaining boss battles that are challenging without becoming too frustrating. It is all a matter of figuring out their attack patterns and then watching for an opening to attack. Combat is not as deep as titles such as Guacamelee or Rain Blood Chronicles but bashing enemies into each other is no less satisfying. The only thing that caused me some trouble was the mechanic for grabbing hold of objects such as vines, ropes, chains and ledges. You have to press “Up” to grab hold which can be tricky in the middle of jumping, dodging and fighting enemies. I eventually got the hang (pun intended) of the technique, but there is a learning curve involved. The game also supplies you with a beastie that you can saddle up and ride for a few sections in what I assume is another nod at Golden Axe.
Tiny Barbarian DX features some very nice pixel art that perfectly captures the retro atmosphere, but special mention should go to the outstanding audio. Jeff Ball is responsible for the chiptune soundtrack and it features some of my favorite tunes so far this year. There is literally not a bad song anywhere in the mix and I stopped a few times when there was a lull in the action just to soak in the music. I played the game using a wired Xbox 360 controller and apart from the tricky ledge grabbing mechanic had no other issues controlling the barbarian.
While episode one “The Serpent Lord” is not particularly long, it is a load of fun and I am really looking forward to the next installment. The good news is that if you buy Tiny Barbarian DX all future episodes are unlocked as they become available at no extra cost. The game also includes all the usual Steam features including trading cards, achievements and leaderboards. It took me just under two hours to complete the first episode as levels are fairly linear with no backtracking, but I managed to miss all 14 “hidden diamonds” so there is some replay value. The game also keeps track of your time, so speed runners should have a blast.
Tiny Barbarian DX is currently available on Steam with a special promotion that nearly slashes the already modest price tag in half making it a steal. The developer promises that future episodes will all feature new settings, enemies and music and believe me, you will be psyched for more after finishing episode one. Tiny Barbarian DX proves that a game can still be great and loads of fun to play without any unnecessary gimmicks tacked on.
*Review originally published 2013.
- OS: Windows XP
- Processor: Dual-core processor (Intel Dual Core 2.0 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 5200+ 2.6 GHz
- Memory: 1 GB RAM
- Graphics: DirectX 9.0c compatible, PixelShader & Vertex Shader 1.1
- DirectX: Version 9.0
- Storage: 80 MB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible
- Additional Notes: .Net FrameWork 4.5.1
- OS: Mac OS X 10.6
- Processor: Dual-core processor
- Memory: 1 GB RAM
- Graphics: PixelShader & Vertex Shader 1.1
- Storage: 105 MB available space
- Additional Notes: Requires Mono