So a game catches my eye and I pick it up. “10 different characters each with their own massive storyline and quest,” “10 huge multi-levled fighting arenas,” and even an “RPG character upgrade system depending on experience earned.” This game seems to have everything I want in a fighter. Well, I wasn’t quite thinking straight this day. Barbarian for the PS2 is a sluggish and non-thrilling 3D fighter that has great potential but falls well short of the finish line.
The good parts…
– The first thing that jumped out at me as being rather decent was the sound. Well, I take that back, the sound as a whole is average, but the voice acting by the narrator and (spoilers) end boss of the game Zaugg is fantastic. His voice really carries, and the deep tones are pleasant to listen too. I went ahead and made a video chronicling the character Mongo’s life. Before and after each fight there was a voice-over narration to tell the story, and I found I was actually pretty engaged. Some alright writing helps draw you in too.
– Okay, so the fighting is boring and uninspired, hell, I’ll call it downright derivative, but it was satisfying. Each character has basic combos that are simple button mashing, but each character feels different. There’s a good variety here, and the characters themselves are varied and interesting. The dead king Magnus, the aforementioned ape Mongo, and the zombie abomination Stitch have their own agendas and fighting styles. Better yet, the way each character weaves in and out of each others story is pretty cool. I think some fighters (if not most) have absurd storylines (I’m looking in your direction Street Fighter). So seeing this one where characters at least feel somewhat interested in why they’re fighting and the cause for fighting is believable makes Barbarian’s story above average for the genre.
– Below is a video of a few matches I played. Sorry for the darkness in some stages. But this should give you an idea of what Barbarian has to offer in terms of fighting:
The not so good parts…
– Okay, where to begin? The biggest flaw, and this is a heavy one, is the fighting itself. It is hard to have a fighting game, so namely an entire game based around fighting, when the attacks and controls are so sloppy. Basic combos are just that: basic. There is no option to mix up attacks, like in Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat even. On top of that, a few questionable decisions to gameplay really make things worse. No knock-back after landing a combo means your opponent can just wail on you right after you beat the shit outta them. This is a big mistake for a fighting game. Second, characters jump way to high and fly back way to far when they actually do get knocked down. It’s frustrating to get hit out of the air and fly a billion feet away from your opponent. Third, the RPG elements are a great idea but are not implemented well. A fighter with maxed out strength will just annihilate someone after landing a few blows. Even balancing this out with a high defense won’t help. It’s here that the game has great potential to be awesome (There aren’t many fighting RPGs out there), but as it is the game is poorly executed.
– Stages are a nice size but lack variety. The desert stage and the jungle stage and the shipwreck stage are all cool locales, but they each play too similarly to one another. They all have the same types of walls, the same types of things to pick up and throw and enemies, and the same annoying steps and inclines to get caught behind. Maybe some lava, poisonous gas, swimming in water areas, or quicksand would have changed things up.
– I like how Barbarian tried to change the win requirements for certain stages, but they just don’t work as well as they should. Some stages have you poisoned, and you must defeat your foe before they defeat you as your health slowly drains. Another has you destroying this power pillar instead of just defeating your enemy. These are neat ideas, but they don’t do much for the game. It still all comes down to beating up the other guy, and when you add a silly requirement like slowly depleting health things get needlessly hard and frustrating. I like where they were going with here, but it didn’t quite work.
– Lastly, I just felt like the game was missing something. In almost all categories Barbarian falls just short of what I wanted it to be. The voice acting is great, but the sound effects and music are forgettable. The characters are varied and cool but the combat is mundane. The storyline is good for a fighter, but without the audience no one will know. The RPG elements are a great idea but are not implemented well. Using the environment as a weapon is cool (Power Stone did it) but it doesn’t add anything to gameplay. I want to like you more Barbarian, but you’re not give me anything else to like. Oh well… at least you can move the “loading” screen images around (which is surprisingly fun, BTW).
Barbarian for the Playstation 2 (and Xbox) is an average 3D fighting game. A lot of potential was in this one, but in the end it just couldn’t pull it off. Fortunately with games like this, though, they tend to be pretty cheap. I picked this one up for only $2.99 at GameStop, and for that price you really can’t go wrong. Still, for all it’s shortcomings, I say give the game a shot. For nothing else, it’ll provide you with a good evening of gaming.