Tiny Barbarian DX (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Albert Lichi 05.11.2017

Review for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

Making retro throwbacks within the indie game scene has almost become a cliché at this point. Ever since Daisuke Pixel's Cave Story, everyone who can code has pretty much given a shot at making a sprite-based 2D title that leeches off '80s NES nostalgia. It is a trend that will likely never go away, for better and for worse. Once in a while, there is something interesting that does manage to have a voice of its own. Titles like Hotline Miami, Hyper Light Drifter, Stardew Valley and Shovel Knight are shining examples of indie ingenuity and creativity when it comes to engaging gamers on more than just nostalgia. Does Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch manage to be in the upper echelon with those games, or is all that flexing just for show?

Typically, in most retro throwback style indie games, there are always one or two original titles that set the game's influences in motion. For Shovel Knight it was Mega Man and Ducktales. Hyper Light Drifter had influences from The Legend of Zelda, and so on and so forth... Tiny Barbarian DX's most obvious influences are definitely Rastan and the NES era Castlevania releases. There are some shades of other titles in there, such as Golden Axe and Ghosts'n Goblins, but they are slight. Another more obvious homage is to '80s barbarian fantasy movies, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian and the He-Man Masters of the Universe movie. It's a cornucopia of sweaty '80s machismo; so much so that the titular hero can even repel fireballs with a well-timed flex.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

Tiny Barbarian DX was originally released episodically over the course of four releases. On Nintendo Switch, everyone will be able to marathon all episodes in order and witness the story unfold. The story in itself is nothing special, but how it is told is interesting since everything is conveyed in the gameplay. Before the title screen appears, control is given immediately and the Barbarian faces endless waves of increasingly more powerful enemies. No explanation why this dude is fighting all these monsters but given the swords and sorcery context it is pretty obvious: an evil wizard kidnapped his babe, of course! After losing to the hordes of evil, the Barbarian is crucified on a tree and restores his life by devouring a vulture that was pecking away at his face so the adventure can begin. The Barbarian's journey is quite the epic one, with each episode being big enough to last an entire NES game. By the time the first episode ends, the hero has pretty much saved his babe and vanquished the evil... only for the second episode to begin with the girl dumping him and him then trying to find her again, which leads to an encounter with even greater evils.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

The controls for Tiny Barbarian DX are exceptional. The hero controls very tightly and responsively and comes with a wealth of special moves that at first seem excessive in a Castlevania-style action-platformer. Aside from the running, jumping, and climbing, the hero has combos using a sword that functions more like a Belmont whip. There is also a surprising amount of finesse required to land some of the more powerful special attacks, and they feel like moves from a fighter. After doing a basic one-two attack, the third strike actually can be done in tandem with a directional input that results in a different attack. This kind of depth is totally unnecessary, but it is greatly welcomed and does add a higher skill ceiling for advanced players. Most people may never realise that they are even in the game, but it is recommended to get a handle on them because Tiny Barbarian DX is tough.

Another quality that retro indie throwbacks have is that they can be difficult. Tiny Barbarian DX is no exception - not the hardest, perhaps, yet feels like a very healthy challenge. There are some stages that have a gimmick to them that mixes things up for variety and usually these parts stick out as the much harder portions. One way this adds variety is how every episode has a mount that is featured and how each one is unique. Episode Two has a large bee, for example; it has its unique control method and will put the hero in a situation where he must navigate a maze of death without touching anything while flying this creature. This is one of finer aspects of Tiny Barbarian DX - just the density of variety and addictive action. Since there's infinite continues, there are no Game Overs and checkpoints are liberally given at the start of every screen. It's a very fair title that invites people to keep trying and is maddening just enough to keep things interesting.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

Tiny Barbarian DX sounds and plays great... but aesthetically it is not much to look at. Since "tiny" is in the title, it is understandable that the hero and the characters are represented as small sprites but did the artists have to go with such an unappealing visual representation? The hero also has a really strange idle animation where he looks like he is insane and is always in a state of trying to catch his breath. The environments and background art hold up better than the characters and resemble backdrops seen from Rastan but with much less depth and detail. There is also not much in terms of replayability, unlockables or post-game content. Instead, it relies on a pointless score system and stages have a large hidden gem that is worth a lot, but the problem is that there is no substantial incentive to seek them out at all. This is one old-school design concept that was abandoned for a reason and including it for the sake of irony or to be true to retro roots is missing the point of why people enjoyed those older games that they grew up with.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Tiny Barbarian DX is an extremely enjoyable action-platformer that has lasting challenge to it. The refined mechanics and the way the story unfolds is most of why this is so much fun to play. It may not win any beauty contests and the lasting appeal comes up a bit... short because of lacking incentives. Thankfully, the local two-player co-op rounds out the value making this a pretty fun game at parties. Tiny Barbarian DX may not be as memorable or as appealing as the likes of Shovel Knight or Hyper Light Drifter, but it is every bit as good and is clearly a product of a lot of passion put into it. The barbarian-fantasy sub-genre just does not click with people like it did once upon a time in the 1980s and it seems most gamers refuse to play a 2D action title that is not a Metroidvania derivative. Tiny Barbarian DX will most certainly satisfy anyone looking for a thrilling and focused 2D sword 'em up.

Developer

Nicalis

Publisher

Nicalis

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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