Developed by StarQuail Games
Published by Nicalis
Reviewed on Switch (also available on Steam)
There are many retro style platforming indie games. I mean a ton! In all honesty most of them just aren’t that great. Most of these games are just poorly made clones of successful series. Well, Tiny Barbarian DX is definitely a clone of games of old, but man is it a freaking great one! With beautiful art design, top notch music. and fantastic level design, I feel like I’m playing one of the best games of the 8-16 bit era!
One of the most charming things about Tiny Barbarian DX is its presentations and its story. The game isn’t going to win any awards for its story, but how it’s presented is great. The moment the games starts, before even the title screen, you are on a mountain pitted against hordes of foes. You can beat them as much as you like. You can last seconds, minutes… hell if you’re THAT good even longer. But once you die the enemies pile on you and the title screen comes up. The entire story is presented with zero dialogue. Everything is expressed using the simple yet beautiful 16-bit-ish graphics. It definitely reminds me of some of the classic games in the NES days.
The gameplay is simple with a two button control scheme, but you can do a lot with what that. One button will let you jump and the other is the ability to attack with your sword. You can perform many different combos with the one attack button, based on timing and the direction of the D-pad. One thing which may turn people off is that this game has no tutorials. It’s very much like a classic 8-bit game where you are on your own on figuring out what you can actually do. I actually enjoyed this a lot and liked experimenting with what I had and learned how to do things. I didn’t even learn how to do a very useful sword attack until the last stage of the first act. You can even flex by holding down and attack, and flexing can actually hurt enemies! The game plays most like a combination of the original Castlevania and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series. From the way you progress through level to the enemies you encounter and even finding meat in the walls, it’s all very reminiscent of those games. Other than meat that replenishes your health, you can find coins. These do absolutely nothing but increase your score. Some are in very dangerous areas and you know completionists are going to risk life and limb to collect them all. You can also find hidden diamonds in the levels; there are a fine number of them and they are counted at the end of each episode.
The game is set up across four episodes, each with its own story and unique bosses. The games will save after every level you complete, which is fantastic because this is not an easy game. Much like the original Castlevania and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts games, this game is a challenge. Luckily you have endless lives. Some people may be turned off by that and sadly there is no way to turn it off, but it definitely doesn’t ruin the experience. You can even play the entire story mode with a friend locally on one Switch. This would definitely make the game easier but it would also be a lot of fun. On top of the story mode, there is also a Horde mode, where you play the title screen fight on the mountain to see how long you can last before you kick the bucket.
Graphically, the game is a beauty when it comes to pixel art. It is a fairly common style with indie games today, but I never really get sick of it. This is actually simpler than most giving a more 12-bit look then say 8 or 16 bit. The animation for enemies and your attacks are fluid and beautiful. The game run perfect at 1080p docked and 720p in handheld mode. What’s really nice is that the team at StarQuail Games were able to get Japanese artist Susumu Matsushita of Maximo, Adventure Island, and Famitsu fame to create the cover art for the game. He has a very unique art style with a western twist which I personally have always been a fan of. Speaking of cover art, if you decided to go all out and pick up the game physically, Nicalis and StarQuail Games when all out on production. Much like Nicalis’s past titles like Cave Story + and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Tiny Barbarian DX includes a full color manual. You will also get a reversible cover and a little pouch with a keychain. These are all very nice little bonuses at no cost to the buyer. When it comes to the game’s soundtrack, expect some catchy 8-bit beats that fit really well with the game. It’s nothing that’s going to knock your socks off, but they are very good compositions nonetheless.
I have to say I was really impressed with Tiny Barbarian DX. There is so little to complain about. The game is difficult, but endless lives and constant checkpoints make that no issue. The game is a fantastic game of old. You have to learn from your mistakes and pull through. It has style and is some of the most fun I have had in a while. It’s also the perfect game to bring on the go to pop in and out off. Tiny Barbarian DX has taken up a huge spot in my heart.