Tiny Barbarian has been in development for a long time. The Kickstarter that funded the first two episodes occurred back in 2012. After releasing the second episode, StarQuail Games partnered with Nicalis Inc. to publish two additional episodes and to release the game on the Nintendo Switch with drop-in/drop-out co-op. Well, the game is finally here. Nicalis Inc. sent us a review copy so we could grab out our sword and fight endless waves of enemies. Is Tiny Barbarian DX worth the wait, or is it an evolutionary failure? This is PushDustIn with Source Gaming, and let’s get started with the review!
Tiny Barbarian DX is broken into four campaigns, each with their unique story. In the first campaign, The Serpent Lord, players start off with their tiny barbarian tied to a tree, left to die. After eating a vulture, the player is ready to extract his revenge on the Serpent Lord. Tiny Barbarian DX does an amazing job of telling its story without voice acting and very minimal cutscenes. The story is played out through level progression and short cutscenes. For example, in the second campaign players will initially chase after monkeys, venture through a cave…and things get a little weird. I don’t want to ruin any of the surprising moments in Tiny Barbarian DX, but there are plenty. The game does an excellent job of taking your expectation and constantly flip them on its’ head. If you are interested in hearing about some of these moments and don’t mind spoilers I’ll post some in the written review on Source Gaming. Of course, there will be spoiler tags for those who want to avoid it, and I’d strongly suggest going into the game blind if possible. While the story doesn’t play a huge role in the game, its’ presence is definitely a welcome addition and doesn’t detract from the main draw of Tiny Barbarian DX, its’ gameplay.
The game has a clear retro feel to it, with a ton of homages to classic games. Players can take up to five hits before they die, and will need to restart the area they currently on. The barbarian may be small, but the challenge is HUGE. When completing the third campaign I died over 200 times. Gamers who are seeking a challenge have been very fortunate lately with Cuphead, Earth Atlantis and now Tiny Barbarian DX releasing in such a short period of time. Tiny Barbarian DX at times feels a bit unfair with its’ high skill ceiling. Some areas are huge and may take some players up to thirty minutes to complete if the player dies often. Despite that, because of that challenge, it feels incredibly rewarding to finally complete the area and move on. Tiny Barbarian DX makes me feel a wide range of emotions. One minute I’m inventing new swear words, and the next I’m on the verge of crying because of how relieved I am.
The game handles extremely well. There are only two buttons — jump and attack. This means the game is fully playable on one Joy-Con as well. The lack of a real D-Pad on the Switch is a real bummer. I ended up relying on the directional buttons when playing single player. For multiplayer, players must use the joystick, which is unfortunate as the game becomes slightly more difficult to control. Players can enable auto-grab in the controls menu. For casual players, this is strongly recommended as it will enhance their experience. I won’t lie that there’s something cathartic about pressing “up” to grab every ledge. Quick warning: In the third episode, there are some areas where it’s beneficial to have auto-grab turned off. Luckily it can be turned on and off within the game itself. Fighting with the barbarian feels so good. There’s only one button for attacking, but pressing it rapidly will create a short combo depending on what direction is being held. It feels incredibly satisfying dodging a huge boss and delivering a couple of quick swipes to them.
The two player co-op system is fantastic. Players can instantly drop in and out of play whenever they want. If they drop in during the middle of a screen, the first player will lose half of their health. If they start on the same screen together, both players will have full health but I believe the challenge is increased. I played through the entire second campaign with co-op, and it was a fantastic experience.
The game does an excellent job of introducing new and interesting twists. Tiny Barbarian DX has constantly surprised me with just how far they’ve pushed some of these gameplay mechanics. Usually, mechanics are introduced on a quick screen and then mastered on a larger playing field. In one campaign, there will be over 7 unique mechanics with each “area” of the map having at least 1 or 2. New enemies are regularly introduced as well and having played through three full campaigns, I didn’t ever feel bored. The game has rideable animals, 3D platforming, mazes, monkeys that throw rocks at the players and so much more. The game has often made me smile. What’s more is that each campaign plays out differently. The developer understood the players’ expectations and played with them. The second campaign, in particular, I was very surprised with how it played out.
The bosses in the game are all very unique. There have only been one or two bosses that I was initially confused on how to beat, but through trial and error, I was able to figure out how to deal damage to them. The bosses feel massive, especially when matched up with the little barbarian. Each campaign will have over 4 bosses, and they all feel unique and very fun to fight.
If players want an additional challenge, there are diamonds to collect in every campaign. The diamonds are well hidden in blocks, and usually, require additional effort by the player to collect. This does create some replay value for the game. The game does keep track of player’s score and time. I would love to see some intense speed runs of this game as Tiny Barbarian is a very easy game to pick up, but difficult to master.
There is also an endless horde mode that automatically starts when players boot up the game. It’s a great way to test out and learn the controls before jumping into the campaign, so I’d strongly suggest new players start with the horde mode.
Tiny Barbarian DX looks great. The background and foreground is composed of multiple layers, which makes it a real treat to look at and play. The graphics for the game are exactly where they need to be. Everything is easily identifiable and generally follows a predictable pattern as long as players have the patience for it.
The music is also wonderfully crafted. I’ve been playing a track from the third campaign during this video, but there are plenty of unique tracks. None of the sounds get annoying in the game, and everything feels so lovingly crafted.
All in all, I can’t really think of a major issue that Tiny Barbarian DX faces. I wish that there was more content in the game, but for what it aims to do, it aces everything. Tiny Barbarian DX feels like a proper love letter to the retro style gaming era. With responsive controls, intense challenges, and loads of charm, I cannot recommend Tiny Barbarian DX. The MSRP is $29.99 USD. In order to complete all of the four campaigns, it’ll take players 8 to 12 hours, depending on their skill level.
I give Tiny Barbarian DX a 5/5.
Mains: Yoshi (64), Game and Watch (Melee), Wario (Brawl), Wario/Pac-Man (Smash for 3DS/Wii U)