At first glance, Tiny Barbarian DX had me raring to go with a whole spiel about retro gaming, retro inspired gaming and developers cashing in on nostalgia and throwback ideas in order to market their game. I mean, just looking at the graphics and hearing the music would instinctively put you into a mindset that’s somewhere between Atari 2600 and the NES. Thankfully, after playing quite a bit, I can say that, while there’s a clear retro sheen cast over everything, Tiny Barbarian DX is a fairly modern title in all the important aspects.
The title of this game pretty much tells you everything you need to know out the gate. You are a barbarian, who is tiny, and you seek to do great tasks, slay monstrous beasts, woo beautiful women and generally brutalize the countryside. The very intro to the game, in which you are chained to a tree and left for dead, only to escape by grabbing a vulture with your mouth, sets the tone nicely. Each of the five (yes, FIVE) chapters gives you a pretty good idea of what your endgame is (kill whoever is in the title) but that shouldn’t let you think the game is by any means straightforward.
What most people are here to find out is if the game is worthwhile. After all, Tiny Barbarian was originally released on the PC about four years ago, and, at the time, it was only the first two chapters of the game. The developers have seemingly went dark since that day, and the anger and frustration in the Steam forums is real. But I think there is also this expectation for game developers to constantly be present and transparent in today’s connected world, and that simply doesn’t work well for all personality types. Starquail Games probably wasn’t allowed, for example, to let it be known that Nicalis would be helping them with porting their game, let alone bringing it to the Switch with a TON of new features.
First, let’s look at the game mechanics themselves. Tiny Barbarian DX is an old school adventure title with just a few functions at hand. You have your sword, and you can jump. You can swing your sword in a variety of directions. You can grab vines and ledges, you can deflect some projectiles with great timing and, if necessary, you can smash your opponents with a pretty serious elbow drop from above. It’s simple, but effective. You need to be careful with directions, however. The barbarian does have different approaches to things based on the joystick: swing the sword three times, activate a combo. Swing three times and press forward, dashing slash, which made me run off the edge and onto spikes a few times. Or when you jump to try and grab onto a vine but you’re not pressing straight up, more an up-right, and then just fall through the air. The controls are titchy, I have to say, but they also focus on a learning curve.
Since this is old school, the purpose of each stage is a high score. You’re not going to be buying new weapon upgrades between levels, but you will have a boss number to show off when you’re really kicking ass. The feel then gravitates towards arcade style, which is gonna be hit or miss for a lot of people. If you’re simply looking to speed through, you’ll find that Tiny Barbarian DX does allow for you to avoid and evade quite a few enemies, though with a cost. They are tenacious, and you can’t always assume that they’re gone simply because you can’t see them. One eagle chased me the length of stage and I didn’t know he was still there until I got clipped mid jump and fell three screens worth. Jerk eagle.
The soundtrack, as any can attest, is a really dope chiptune setup. If you love music from the 8-bit era, you’ll be totally smitten with how Tiny Barbarian DX handles itself. Right from the get-go, it’s driving, it’s powerful, and it puts you into the right mentality for how the game performs and acts. NES games were never very forgiving for mistakes, and neither is Tiny Barbarian DX. Thankfully, this is a lot more Mega Man than Volgarr, so multiple hits are allowed, and you’ll also occasionally find more fresh meat to consume and get back your health. It’s difficult, but it’s not unforgiving.
Tiny Barbarian DX’s Switch debut also comes with a ton of features that you won’t see on the Steam version, at least not yet. Firstly, the game is complete, with five chapters of full barbarian goodness, more than doubling what’s currently on the PC version. There’s also multiplayer co-op, which I recommend for a good time in general. Two barbarians make pretty short work out of most scenarios and the combination is seamless and smooth. The game is grand on the small screen (it is Tiny, after all), so portability, even two player portability, looks fantastic. I understand there’ll be a lot of questions as to the game’s worthwhile nature, but I can attest that this was worked over, smoothed out and really looks and plays great on the Switch.
Tiny Barbarian DX has had an odd journey, beginning many years ago, lapsing into quiet and finally exploding back onto the scene with a full, satisfying and complete experience. The horde battle mode (basically a fight to survive) isn’t the greatest thing ever, but I’m glad that it’s available. The music is still some of the better chiptune that I’ve heard in recent memory, and the concept, however simple, is executed extremely well. If you didn’t play it on the PC, this is a perfect chance to jump in and enjoy the game in its entirety. If years of waiting on Steam have soured you, well…I’m sorry to hear that, but barbarians are anything but apologetic. This is a great adventure game, and I’m glad to have it in the growing pantheon of Switch titles.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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