Thanks to Nicalis for the review code
Title: Tiny Barbarian DX
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10/10/2017
In this action adventure game, you take control of a Barbarian who freed himself from imprisonment, as he sets out on an epic quest to save a princess, defeat some monsters and investigate the reasons behind the rise of demons across the land!
Visually, you can be forgiven if at first glance you look at one of the screenshots from this review and think that Tiny Barbarian would fall under the same, tired and true pixel art craze that it the majority of games I review lately take on, and in some ways, that would be an accurate way of describing the game, if we based it off just the sprites. But even by pixel art standards, the spritework used in this game is just lovely, ditching the common zoomed in approach that these games have typically used in favor of one that focuses on the backgrounds and better visibility. Considering how the game is named Tiny Barbarian DX, they weren’t kidding when they said Tiny, as the sprites of the main hero and most of the enemies fit that description perfectly, yet the animations still manage to be really well-done, and the scrolling on some of the obstacles and backgrounds is impressive, proving that this is a game that pushes the boundaries of spritework.
The audio isn’t half bad either, and while there are unfortunately a few tunes that really drag on, the soundtrack as a whole still benefits from using high quality instruments. Special props for the amazing Title Screen time, which gives you the feeling that you’re truly about to embark on an epic adventure worth taking.
If you’ve played the Ninja Gaiden trilogy on the NES, then you’ll be right at home controlling this game, as most of the adventure feels exactly the same as those titles, just without the ability to use subweapons. Your Barbarian can do a few combos with the attack button, where swinging his sword three times will prompt him to dash forward, upward, or even a cool spin attack if done in midair, and mastering these moves is key to defeating the many enemies that you’ll run into across the journey. Also like Ryu from Ninja Gaiden, the Barbarian can climb some walls and hang onto some overhead vines to attack, though he can’t really wall jump except in very specific instances.
The game progresses in an episodic structure, with four main episodes available for you to unlock one after another, and each episode is really just a single world with a set of several stages for you to tackle. Each stage is split up into multiple screens, and right from the get go you’ll notice a big change from the norm that Tiny Barbarian shows off right from the beginning, and that’s the lack of a lives system. This means that you can die as many times as you please, but won’t get much punishment for it outside of being sent back to the beginning of the room.
On one hand, this sounds like a horrible idea that could easily lead to an insultingly easy game, but Tiny Barbarian still manages to be a very, very challenging game despite this feature, and in actuality the lack of lives makes the experience a lot less frustrating as a result. Some rooms seem like they can go on and on, and when you die right as you’re about to enter the next one it can feel horribly unfair, that is, until you go through the entire room again due to muscle memory and realize how fast the game’s pacing is as a whole once you memorize some things and get used to some tricky enemy placements.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t perfect when it comes to the difficulty balance, as in some cases I did find some legitimately cheap moments, though they were few and far between. The most common type of these moments come from anything that requires you to make an ultra precise jump that requires you to jump from the extreme edge of a platform in order to grab onto a ledge, and doing so can at times be really annoying. Thankfully, most of the situations I found myself having this problem with were near the beginning of the screen, and there is an auto-grab option in the menu that you can turn on if grabbing onto ledges is acting up for you.
A nifty new feature added for the Switch version of the game (and later for the PC/Mac version) is the ability to play through the entire game in Co-Op with a local buddy. For me and my friend, we decided to try this out with the majority of Episode 1, and the results were rather mixed. While both players do have their own life bars, (and one player can steal a life point from another if they happen to die while the other player is still going) the game doesn’t seem to really like scenarios where one player gets farther than the other, and the game was absolutely not built with two player in mind.
Multiple times I encountered a situation where I’d move far ahead, only for me to be unable to move the screen forward because my friend was too far back. Understandable, as that’s a common feature in co-op games, but the problem was I was in a situation where I wasn’t able to get back the way I came to move the screen for my friend to follow me, so in those situations he either had to drop out or die and respawn close to me to continue playing. It’s still a decent little addition, but poorly balanced compared to the rest of the game and not something I honestly recommend you do unless you want to play the game like a hard mode.
In conclusion, Tiny Barbarian DX is a well-crafted platformer that really caught me off guard. Despite having a lackluster co-op mode, along with a bonus mode called “The Horde” that was nothing more than a glorified survival mode, the main adventure is decently lengthy and fantastic, even if it’s focused a lot on trial and error, which might not work out for everyone. Still, as a Ninja Gaiden fanatic I really enjoyed this throwback, and plan to play through the rest of the episodes and beat then in due time. That being said, there are two main draws that could impact how you view the Switch version of the game. For starters, despite the game including some cool items in the physical version, the digital version is the same MSRP of $30, both on the eShop and on Steam. Though for a high quality, well crafted adventure like this, I actually do think it’s worth that price, even if I know some won’t take too kindly to $30 digital products.
The other, bigger difference between versions for me at least is the lack of the achievements featured in the Steam Release. While some of the achievements are fairly standard, there are some that actually do challenge you to do some crazy things, such as clear an entire episode without dying once, finding all the obscure secrets in the game, among other fun challenges. The lack of those achievements in the Switch version, even as in-game challenges does come off as a disappointment that removes some of the replay value found in the Steam release, which is a shame since in my opinion the more replay value, the better, but outside of redoing episodes to improve your best time and lower your death counts, there isn’t too much of a reason to replay this amazing adventure right after you clear it. I give Tiny Barbarian DX an 8 out of 10.