Review: Barbearian15 Aug 2018 2
Released 15 Aug 2018
Just over a year ago I wrote up a post of mobile games reminiscent of Diablo in some form or fashion. While the games I chose are all fun in their own right and share characteristics with Blizzard's hall-of-fame RPG series, none quite matched the exciting combat pacing of Diablo III on a PC. Turns out I was just thirteen months early. Barbearian is a real-time game that features frenetic combat full of huge hits against vast hordes of enemies. The constant motion, explosive hits, and overwhelming odds of it reminds me of running around Diablo III maps looking for more to kill.
In Barbearian you are a bear-clad barbarian. Thus, you know, the puntastic title of the game. You didn't start out that way, the barbarian part anyway. Abducted and brought to a strange world, you were forced to battle for your life and berserker-mode is just how you roll. The game isn't just a quest for a survival, but one to unwrap the mysteries of a group of weirdos known as the Arbitrators and to find the way back home.
Any hope of a return home lay through the challenges arrayed before you. The game consists of a series of portal-connected worlds. Most portals lead to worlds full of people, creatures, and things dedicated to your death. Your job is to smash your way through these haters and take out all of the bosses on each of the three levels, thus defeating the world. Once you take out all of the bosses on one level a portal opens and will, ready or not, eventually suck you through to the next level. As you destroy foes, trees, walls, and really anything food and gems will drop which are the currency of the game. There are buildings back in non-combat worlds where you can buy access to special weapons which will then drop as loot in game.
Each level also has a peasant and fellow abductee that you can rescue. Those you rescue become part of your warband and you can buy them a kit to be knights or archers and they can be brought into battle to help with the carnage. They die easily, but luckily you can also buy revival magic to bring them back from the dead. You recharge these revivals by destroying enemy critters, which you were going to do anyway, and it's easy to respawn a good portion of your warband over and over while in the enemy world.
Combat is the biggest part of the game, and it is fast, fun, and fierce. You start out with an axe attack and a charge attack the recharges after a few seconds. You'll quickly find yourself looking for the biggest bang for your charge and slamming into dozens if not hundreds of foes, sending them flying lifelessly in all directions. Once you purchase the new weapons—machine guns, boom sticks, and many more—you'll start finding them as you fight as well. In addition to these there are special temporary power ups that do things like make you invincible, faster, or give you a temporary ball-and-chain-type thing that swirls around you mowing down anything around you.
Not only is combat great but Barbearian's levels are hand-crafted, attractive, and fully destructible. You can run around and bash down every tree and Kool-Aid Man your way through fences and walls if you want (and I want) and doing so yields extra fruit for your trouble. There's a lot of great attention-to-detail aspects of the game that go a long way toward enhancing the feel of the game as well. Charging into a huge pile of enemies and sending their corpses scattering in every direction is a visceral delight and the kick-back from the machine gun that proves, even in a video game, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction are two of my favorite examples.
Barbearian is a challenging game, most people should expect to need a couple to a few tries on each portal, but it is far more forgiving than a lot of real-time games. You don't need crazy-fast reflexes to beat a level or some precise order of moves and attacks to beat bosses. You will need to get good at wheeling around avoiding the masses arrayed against you, firing off various weapons as you go, and charging through tightly gathered mobs when the time is right. Certainly, anybody with experience kiting in other real-time games will feel right at home.
The biggest challenge factor in the game is health attrition. Your mighty bear has only one way to regain health: one shrine placed on each level where you pay to get back to full health. This creates some tense levels where you're at a sliver of health and really need to get to the next shrine, which may be on the next level! The single chance to heal per level works well with the portals that open when you've killed the last boss, because you're going through that thing whether you've healed or found the abductee on that level. You can run for it, and charging helps, but you feel the pull of the portal like a dog straining at the leash. It's a cool effect and adds an interesting timing challenge to the game. Do you take a sub-optimal heal when you're at half health or do you bet you can get back to the shrine without killing the last boss?
What if the game feels too difficult, or too easy for that matter? Barbearian has you covered in the form of three difficulty sliders. You can adjust the game speed, damage taken, and loot value both up and down. Using those sliders, you can micromanage the difficulty of the game and tune it to where it’s the most fun for you. I really love when games give that level of control to the player over their own experience.
Another very cool option in the game is the ability to customize its controls. There are default layouts for both small and large screens as well as a fully customizable layout where you decide exactly where all the buttons go. It's a very smart plan that accounts for different screen sizes, hand sizes, ways people hold or prop up their devices, and even gaming posture. Oh, it also features controller support for you mobile-game-controller enthusiasts. Display wise, I think Barbearian is perfect for an iPad. It plays well on my iPhone 6S Plus, but I definitely prefer the bigger screen as it's much easier to destroy all the things without your fingers getting in the way.
If you're a fan of real-time combat games Barbearian is easy to recommend as it is certainly one of the better mobile titles in the genre. It looks great, is loaded with smashy goodness and visceral feel, and is a ton of fun to play. It offers plenty of challenge without nearing the rage-quit-and-never-look-at-the-game-again reaction some similar games seem to elicit. The ability to micromanage the difficulty and completely control the UI layout is just icing on the cake.