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Barbarian Review
game: Barbarian
three star
posted by: Monica Hafer
publisher: Titus
date posted: 09:10 AM Wed Sep 4th, 2002
last revision: 06:41 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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Barbarian, the latest addition to the arena fighting scene, is the story of a land under siege by evil magic that can only be lifted by a hero who will rise from the ranks and bring about the prophecy which promises salvation from darkness. Sound familiar? Perhaps it is, but hearing the particulars may be half the fun on this one. I first saw this game at E3 and wasn\'t overly impressed, but there are some definite plusses to this game that are a welcome surprise in the finished product.

Barbarian sports a quest, versus, and fairly thorough training mode. There are eleven characters to choose from, broken up into the categories of the \"good,\" the \"bad,\" and the (not ugly, but) \"lonely.\" All of the characters are connected to the evil Arch Mage Zaugg, whether they have been terrorized by his evil minions or recruited into his service. The interesting thing about the storyline of this game is that when you play the \"bad\" characters, they have a compelling enough history behind them and seemingly solid reasons for joining the dark mage that you find yourself bonding with them as anti-heroes. I credit this to a style or writing that, had this game really allowed itself to evolve into a true quest game, would have been exceptionally powerful. But more on the story in a moment.

Each character has eight specialty moves and six unique magic capabilities. You can train on each character if you want, or pull up their combo menus during a battle, but it really isn\'t necessary, as most of the attacks are only slight variations on a theme. There are the standard weak and strong attacks, bonus \"rune\" magic attacks that you can obtain by performing specific attacks, blocks, throws, and interaction with objects. With each win you are given points to improve your ability scores. As your ability to lift increases, you can interact even more with certain elements of the environment. Each character is preset with certain scores, and one of my extreme pet peeves was that the female fighters were almost too weak to compete in the beginning of the game without messing with the AI or number of games to win options. Ok, so maybe this was their push for realism, but hey, it\'s not like this game is really striving for realism in any other department, so what\'s up with that?

Besides their normal weapon attacks, characters can grapple opponents, pick up and throw objects, or use them as a swinging weapon. In an amusing addition, even fallen thugs can be picked up and wielded against your opponents. The movement of this game is further developed by the ability of the characters to make huge jumps and even swing on monkey-bar-like scaffolds. The only move that wasn\'t normal fare was a roll function (and would have been a better use of the L2 button, which was a way for novices to complete combo moves with no time restraints). The only time you can roll is when you are getting up from an attack, and I missed the ability to dodge attacks quickly with a well-timed roll before getting clocked. What this game may lack in other areas, it certainly makes up for in what I would call an incredibly frenetic fighting style. I felt at times like I was a Dragonball Z character or Yoda fighting Count Dooku in Episode II. This type of movement initially put me off when I saw Barbarian at E3, but I have decided that I like it for a change of pace.

One of the things that heightens the frenetic style is the tiered arena settings. There are staircases to mount, towers to fall from, water to splash around in, and ledges and rock formations to climb onto. In addition, the items that populate your screen can almost always be used to widen your playing environment. While the graphics aren\'t as detailed and sumptuous as some titles we might mention, they\'re a solid and interesting component. The only problem that comes with the environments is the limited camera ability and the fact that there are only two angles to choose from. The \"all\" choice is a wide-angle shot that doesn\'t move well around rocks and other obstacles, and there\'s nothing that pisses me off more than getting clobbered by the undead when I can\'t even see to do anything more than punch buttons randomly. The \"character\" choice is problematic as well, being so tightly focused on the front of your character that you can\'t see your opponent half of the time. This is a big issue for any game, but especially worrisome for a fighting game that is playing with imaginative arenas.

Another option that actually makes some difference in the game is the ability to set the AI level of your opponents. The default is set at 5, topping out at a score of 10. In the quest mode this doesn\'t really seem to have as much effect, and I\'m not sure why, but it makes a much larger difference in the versus computer mode. AI is a misleading term, as increasing it pretty much just bumps up the computer\'s speed and combo attacks. It also has the function of becoming a \"mirror fighting style.\" By this I mean that the computer will match your moves if you get in a rut. For example, if you tend to jump a lot and use more of an aerial fighting style, then the computer will match that. This makes the need to use all the tricks in your fighting bag more important, because the computer at AI-10 will almost always kick your butt if you\'re predictable. Face it, no matter how fast your fingers are, the chip will always win when it puts its \"mind\" to it.

The sound effects are standard fare (although I did like Stitch the Undead\'s cackle) but what is pretty darn fabulous is the musical score. It is in the style of Basil Poledouris (Conan soundtrack) and even though it fell short of that (hey, nobody is as good as Basil in my book), its attempt brings a great sonic backdrop that is wholly unexpected in it\'s quality and range. The voice acting of the narrator earns two thumbs up from this reviewer as well.

The versus mode has the ability to chose teams with four color designations (if you are using a multitap, you can actually play four players) and allows you to add a companion to help you as well as the ability to add up to four thugs to increase the melee potential. There are two costume choices for each character. On a more important note, the ability to import a beefed up character from your quest game is a welcome addition. The only downside I saw to the versus mode is that it doesn\'t keep track of your wins if your playing against the computer, and there\'s no sense of progression to getting some cool reward like you get on games like Tekken. I guess maybe they figure if you\'re playing solo, you\'ll most likely be playing the quest mode. Which leads me to my final point...the story in quest mode.

I feel bad for the writers of this game. The fact that Barbarian was designed to be an arena fighter in the strictest sense of the word makes giving it an RPG feeling just a tease. The designers tried valiantly to broaden things, but each time the parameters brought things to the same conclusion; each character (ten total) has his or her own story and plays through eleven unique \"chapters\" of plot (you do the math), but each must be ended with the words I came to dread...\"they attack!\" Granted, the game doesn\'t profess to be an RPG, but here\'s my point. Although the plot is sometimes over-dramatic in its execution (and Barbaria is a lame country name), the ideas are compelling and it made me really want to branch out into more story-driven actions that may or may not have included fighting. Perhaps if there were more cut screens this would have satisfied my yearning for more. But although this leaves me wanting more from the game, I have to give kudos to the writers for making me feel like sitting and listening to their storytelling rather than going out and cracking skulls--or at least putting the cracking on hold for a while. Some of the characters are definitely in the \"old hat\" category (although most RPGers will tell you that tradition and continuity aren\'t always a problem, rather they are comforting), but there is enough diversity that I didn\'t have a problem with boredom. Perhaps the voice acting helped me get sucked in, but it was compelling nonetheless.

Barbarian has an interesting, frenetic fighting style, layered/tiered arenas and object interactivity that put it on the plus side. It attempts to add choices in versus combat if you have friends that can come over and indulge with you, and it strives to add depth to the quest storyline by a semi-effective branching effect. The musical score is a shining moment. However, this game is still pretty short. Even when the computer is \"cheating\" and you have to win 2 out of 3 games to become victorious, it doesn\'t take that long. And the quest side is more a tease than anything else and doesn\'t have much replay value as far as game play goes. For me, this game falls into the rental category. The plot is definitely worth a run through, but I can\'t imagine the versus mode being strong enough to allow it to maintain a permanent place on my shelf. So on goes the quest...