If there’s one thing the indie gaming scene has taught us, what’s old is new again. So many games have come out over the past few years that attempt to recapture the magic of the 8 and 16-bit heyday. Some are more successful than others, but if the gameplay mechanics are solid and the level designs are thoughtful, then a retro-looking game can find itself scoring points with the older crowd that grew up on simpler games as well as the current generation of gamers seeking something different from the AAA story-driven titles. Tiny Barbarian DX captures the nostalgic look of a game released long ago and provides a fun co-op experience to boot.
You play as a (shocker!) tiny barbarian. In fact, I was taken a bit by surprise at just how small you and many of the enemies appear on the screen. Although the game is going for a pseudo 8-bit look with some 16-bit special effects, most of the games released back then featured bigger sprites. Not that this is a huge issue for the game, especially since your character will be able to ride a beast, bringing back fond memories of He-Man marching off to vanquish his evil foes on the back of Battle Cat. Your weapon is a sword that can be swung left, right and upward. The game is very much an action-platformer that will require you to make precision jumps to avoid hazards like spikes and projectiles. You’ll be able to latch on to ledges and climb chains and ropes to reach new heights. Enemies are taken out with a few swings of your blade, and yes, just like every 8-bit game ever made, birds and bats are the true bane of your existence.
The graphics looks pretty good in general, although I felt there could have been a bit more detail in some of the sprites. The backgrounds look great and are highly varied from one area to the next. Speaking of, I really like the map sequences between levels to show you where you are in relation to the other areas, much like Ghosts ‘N Goblins and Castlevania. The square bricks that make up some of the areas really reminded me of the original Castlevania games, and I couldn’t help but swing wildly at them trying to find secrets, much to no avail. Of course there’s no flicker or slowdown like we had to deal with 30 years ago, so that’s an improvement!
One aspect of the game that is a perfect fit for the Switch is that it features two-player simultaneous co-op. As is usually the case, the addition of a second player can add a lot more fun and excitement to a game. These are old-school rules, so you can’t hurt each other and are tethered to the same screen. Luckily the levels are already rather zoomed out so this is rarely an issue unless you’re playing with someone that’s new to gaming.
I’ve touched quite a bit on the game’s graphics, but special mention must be made of its fantastic chiptune soundtrack. From the second the game starts this game has some rocking beats that really keep the action flowing. I’ve always appreciated it when developers clearly put extra time in composing a game’s BGM, and it’s simply stellar here. It’s very catchy and upbeat, reminding me a bit more of something like Blaster Master or Ninja Gaiden. Kudos to the sound guy(s)!
So, you’ve got some pretty decent visuals, a catchy soundtrack, and pretty spot-on controls, plus co-op for good measure. Tiny Barbarian DX checks most of the boxes. I’d have preferred the game have more secret areas to discover or even some secondary items to use. The game can be a bit difficult at times, but luckily there are unlimited lives so you don’t have to worry about starting over from scratch. I did keep trying to duck, since most games of this type allow for that, but the barbarian just puffs out his chest and shows off his physique instead. In some ways the classic NES games featured more gameplay elements, which seem oddly missing here. Basically there’s not a whole lot in the way of innovation or surprises. Still, at the end of the day we have a fun action game filled with a variety of locales and one that’s instantly playable thanks to a simple control scheme. The price tag might be a bit steep ($29.99) for a game of this caliber, but it’s still a worthy purchase for fans of this genre.