Don’t be so barbaric.
Much like the simple life of the Barbarian, Tiny Barbarian DX is all about the basics. The game’s two-button jump and attack control scheme works wonders towards achieving that old NES nostalgic vibe, and the vibrant Chiptune soundtrack makes me feel like I’m eight years-old again and playing Mega Man in my parents’ basement. But despite the nice look and feel, the game is just too basic and repetitive to provide any real sort of lasting entertainment, and seems a bit barbaric in its own right.
Tiny Barbarian DX begins with your Barbarian standing high atop a mountain, with dozens of undead warriors and goblins climbing the precipice to challenge his worth. You’ll have to stand and fight off as many of these guys as you can until they simply overwhelm you, and your Barbarian inevitably falls in battle: which leads right into the game’s main title screen. It’s an extremely clever plot device, and one that actually manages to give a pretty cinematic quality to a game with such intentional old-school graphics.
The titular Barbarian is certainly tiny, and the game has a great depth of scale that really makes those many platforming screens feel sprawling in both their appearance and design. The performance is incredibly slick, and the environments are all nicely envisioned, as you move from outdoor rocky plateaus, to dungeons deep underground, and finally a lavish palace with dazzling columns and tiled floors. However, the beginning of the game can feel very repetitive, and the incredible ease of some of those earlier screens can wind up leaving a lot to be desired.
The game introduces a few interesting gameplay mechanics along the way, though, like riding on the back of a giant dinosaur creature, or volleying bombs during one particularly challenging boss fight. But for the most part, you’re simply looking at some classic platform jumping and the occasional hacking and slashing of a snake or an eagle here. Collectables are limited to chicken legs, which replenish some of your health squares, and tiny gold coins that add on to your score. Apparently there are also 14 hidden diamonds to be found throughout the game as well, but I came up with a big old goose egg in that department.
But be warned though: the last couple screens of Tiny Barbarian DX feature an extreme difficulty spike, which comes across as being far more frustrating than challenging. This is most likely because everything else before this point in the game wildly underprepares you for the insanely precise platforming requirements that come out of nowhere, or the onslaught of never-ending enemies that seem specifically programmed to mess up your jumps.
There is also an unusual give-and-take with the game that will ultimately affect the way you play it. Thankfully, Tiny Barbarian DX has a checkpoint after almost every screen, and you have an unlimited number of lives, so you never run the risk of getting a “Game Over” or being sent back to an earlier point in your adventure. So with patience and persistence, anyone will slowly be able to chip away at the platforming adventure screen by screen until they reach the ending. But on the flipside, the game doesn’t seem to have any sort of save system in place, so if you need to go somewhere or turn your computer off, then you might be out of luck. In this light, the game length feels a little bit strained when forced to complete it in a single sitting like this.
Once you do complete the main adventure, however, there’s little else to do but try and beat your own high score or completion time. To put this into a bit of perspective, my completion time was a little under an hour and a half, and that’s including the dozens of times my Barbarian crumbled under the vicious attacks of a spitting cobra or devious magician. The game also lists three additional chapters in the Barbarian’s journey, but all are currently inaccessible and designated as “Coming Soon.”
Besides walking through the Hall of Heroes, which lets you see your fastest completion time engraved on a stone wall, the only other thing you can do outside of the main game is an option called “VS the Horde.” This mode merely brings back the never-ending battle on the mountain precipice from the beginning of the adventure, where you see how long you can survive against the same, repetitious horde. As it turns out, there’s really no point or underlying incentive to play this thinly-veiled mode, and it becomes more of a blatantly tacked-on “extra” than anything else.
Tiny Barbarian DX is a fairly short and equally linear retro experience, and it becomes pretty clear early on that the game just needed something more to truly be great. What that something actually is, however, well your guess is as good as mine. But if you’re in the mood for a light and simple platformer game, then Tiny Barbarian DX still might be a good way to get your barbarous sidescrolling fix in.