Tiny Barbarian DX (Nintendo Switch) Second Opinion Review

By Renan Fontes 13.11.2017

Review for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

Between the The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ and Cave Story+, Nicalis has had a solid track record in porting games over to the Nintendo Switch. Of course, both those titles were already great to begin with but their carryovers felt completely at home on Nintendo's home console-handheld hybrid. Tiny Barbarian DX is the latest of Nicalis' Switch endeavours. Described as a "sword 'em up" by the developer, Tiny Barbarian is an episodic, action-platformer in the style of old pulp magazines. Without the fan-base and critical reception that the previous ports had, however, Nicalis has to prove that the miniature barbarian was really worth bringing over to the Switch. After the initial review, Cubed3 now shares a second opinion.

Good first impressions can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they instil the audience with excitement for what's to come. On the other hand, they make any pitfalls all the more disappointing. For better, and for worse, Little Barbarian DX leaves a great first impression.

The first time the game is booted, the camera slowly pans up a building as monsters climb up it. At the top stands the titular barbarian, ready for action. Control is given to the player as soon as he appears and, with no context or direction, surviving the monstrous horde becomes the main objective. For as long as the barbarian can survive, the horde acts as a tutorial-less tutorial for the combat. Slashes can be chained together to push enemies back, jumping into the air and striking down triggers an elbow drop, and slashing upward sends enemies into the sky for some juggling.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

The horde also acts as a nice way of showcasing difficulty without putting any stakes on the line. Death here simply starts the game proper, but someone who's able to quickly adapt will find themselves gaining a well-earned head start in terms of what to expect from the enemy design. Foes are on the fast side and demand immediate killing. Since the barbarian's invincible frames are virtually non-existent, getting hit is a non-option despite his six blocks of health. It's easy to quickly lose HP in the moment. Since the sprites are so small, it's also important to understand just how big the barbarian's hitbox is.

As good of an impression this is, it does portray a false image of what Tiny Barbarian DX will be. The developer claims this is a sword 'em up, but it's actually a platformer with some light action elements. The majority of the gameplay is spent in platforming set pieces and while properly platforming is necessary in making progress, putting the barbarian's sword to use seldom is. Even boss fights, which would be the natural place to demand skill, feel more like traditional platformer bosses than action ones.

Due to this emphasis on platforming conventions, there never comes a time when the barbarian can go all out on enemies, making most of his skill set utterly useless. In fact, it's actually better to avoid enemies than to confront them for some screens. The biggest issue holding back the action, however, has to be the lack of growth. Swordplay is so simple that there isn't anything to master, and, outside of earning points, there's no incentive to defeating enemies.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

While this isn't a particularly good action game, or sword 'em up, is it at least a good platformer? Since the original release was staggered in episodic chunks, there's a noticeable difference curve of quality present in the campaign. Each episode is better than the last in terms of level design, but no episode stands out as especially impressive.

One of the biggest issues plaguing the level design is the sporadic difficulty. Some screens can be cleared in seconds without so much as a proper moment spent within them, and others unleash an onslaught of obstacles that, too often, come off more frustrating than difficult. Like most contemporary platformers, death hardly has any consequence. Instant respawns allow for more trial and error with less frustration but, here, it just highlights Tiny Barbarian DX's core issue: it cannot commit to a genre.

In the same way the sword is underdeveloped, the platforming is also rather bare. With the exception of a few precise jumps every now and again, there is rarely a call for skill in traversing a stage. This is simply because these stages weren't designed for a platformer, they were designed for an action title. At the same time, however, the lack of variety in combat and in enemy design means the stages lend themselves more to the platformer genre. The result is an incredibly simple platformer with sporadic design elements that neither benefit an action game or a platformer.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

To its credit, co-op goes a long way in making the overall experience significantly better. Bashing through a level with a fellow barbarian brings out a lot of the whimsy missing in single player. Of course, co-operative play doesn't suddenly fix the many design issues present in each episode, but it does at least hide it to an extent. With double the health, the more enemy heavy rooms lose their frustration and progress becomes quick and smooth, perfect for that local couch co-op feeling.

While some design issues can be overlooked through multiplayer, it's hard to look past the audio issues. There are instances where multiple sounds will play together and they all clip into each other into an ear-popping explosion. This is especially frustrating because this haphazard approach to sound mixing masks an otherwise excellent and catchy soundtrack. In a game already filled with problems, this is, by far, Tiny Barbarian DX's plague. There is no excuse for the level of distortion present in the sound effects. All it does is sour an already mixed bag with technical issues that could, and should, have been avoided. Perhaps an update can fix these problems, but the fact that it was released in this state, and for $30 no less, is downright unacceptable.

Screenshot for Tiny Barbarian DX on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Out of all of Nicalis' Switch ports so far, Tiny Barbarian DX certainly feels the sloppiest of the bunch. Self-proclaiming itself as a sword 'em up was perhaps a poor move as there's never an in-game need to experiment with combos. The episodic nature, especially, is a double-edged sword. It's clear that the developer was learning from its mistakes with each episode's release, but it takes far too long to get to an episode that feels appropriately balanced in terms of difficulty. Co-operative play alleviates some of the frustration present in the single-player campaign, but it's little more than a bandage on a wound in desperate need of medical attention. Top it off with some awful sound mixing and Tiny Barbarian DX stands out as Nicalis' most disappointing Switch port yet.

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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