Tiny Barbarian DX (Switch) Review – Thrown Back to the 80s
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Developer: Starquail Games
Release: 10th October 2017
In the recent flooding of the Nintendo Switch eShop with great indie games, a tiny game about a tiny man seemingly perished from the charts. Does this throwback to the good old platformers of the 80s deserve your time nonetheless? Yes, it definitely does and you wouldn´t want to miss this almost perfect classic platformer!
Tiny Barbarian DX is a very obvious tribute to the old NES days where graphics were minimalistic, plots superficial and the difficulty high. Lacking any kind of coherent story or goal, the tiny barbarian slashes through the different episodes of the game while being interrupted by little in-game cutscenes from time to time showing off a boss or obstacle. Dialogues, voices, long cutscenes, all of those things are non-existent here to fully emulate the experience. For better or worse, most of the time I had no clue why I was in this environment, killed those enemies or about much else. Surely this game didn´t need a big plot or deep characters but at least a few line of dialogues for the big characters would´ve been nice.
The graphics on the other hand may have the same goal but execute it by blending modern elements with the characteristic old-school minimalistic pixel art. The barbarian doesn´t have a face, only a few details, a little white sword (I suppose) but still manages to convey a certain character. Be it through the superb animations, he flexes his muscles, smashes on the ground and behaves like the most stereotypical male barbarian you could imagine, cliché-y but brilliant executed at the same time.
Same with the enemies, their animations may be a bit more limited but every one of them has his own little quirk or move, attacks are hinted by their animations and it looks amazing. Especially mixed with the detailed environments which were always the highlight for me. Every episode features tons of amazing looking designs, just look at the screenshots. Together with the stunning retro soundtrack, able to breathe life into the scenery like I´ve rarely seen in indie games, Tiny Barbarian DX´s presentation is almost breath-taking at some points.
Since Tiny Barbarian DX can be fully enjoyed in coop with the single Joy-Con configuration, the controls and gameplay are pretty basic. There´s a three hit slash combo, a jump button, move buttons and that´s practically it. Imagine an old platformer from the 80s and you got Tiny Barbarian DX´s gameplay. Although it´s not advancing the formula in any way it still feels very tight and responsive, the jumps feel precise, the game reacts very quickly and it does a great job at simulating the retro feel. Sadly it doesn´t add anything to it.
Considering the high difficulty of the game a good movement is essential, yes, Tiny Barbarian DX is a damn hard game. The barbarian might take 6 hits before he dies and is invulnerable after being hit but due to the either hard level design or sheer amount of enemies, 6 hits are nothing and I´m sure I died more than just a few dozen times. Bats that are flying up and down, guards with rotating swords, far jumps from rope to rope, elevators, hard jumping sections, think of any hard level design, Tiny Barbarian DX has them all and is not afraid to mix them in any way. As a result especially the later levels and chapters can be pure hell and since the game resets us to the start of each section once we die, dying at the last enemy brought me to the brink of rage quitting more than one time. Typical for older NES games.
Unfortunately the pacing of the difficulty is probably Tiny Barbarian DX´s biggest flaw alongside the underwhelming bossfights. While I wouldn´t consider the difficulty itself as too hard or frustrating, the way the game pieces its levels together creates a rather strange experience. Pretty easy levels that are played on a mount, like a bee, are right before super hard levels where bats are flying through the map and the ground is clustered with spikes and moving platforms, before landing on a unchallenging boss fight. There isn´t a steady rise of the difficulty curve but more a vastly changing curve, going up and down in no time.
The fact boss fights are almost entirely made up of the most cliché-y concepts I could imagine doesn´t help the game to create memorable fights or level structures. Bosses that require me to punch their bombs back to them are overused and boring.
Tiny Barbarian DX isn´t a revolutionary game, by far. There´s nothing new here mechanic-wise. Nonetheless, the goal of delivering a lovely crafted throwback to the 80s platformers doesn´t suffer from it. The music, the pixelart, the tight controls or challenging difficulty, it all works damn well and is a lot of fun. Wouldn´t it have these weird difficulty spikes or unremarkable boss fights I would probably agree with the 30 dollar price tag to a certain degree. However, as of now, the high price tag makes it a hard sell, even for coop platformer enthusiasts.
[A Review Code was provided by Nicalis]