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Friday, 9 April 2010

Barbarian (Psygnosis - Commodore Amiga)

The name "Barbarian" has quite a history in gaming... probably because there were two of them. I think that everyone remembers the Palace Software version... with its epic one-on-one sword combat and lopping-off-of-head coup-de-grace, it was the beat 'em up of choice for those that didn't like wearing coloured pyjamas. Then, of course, there was the sequel, which famously discarded the one-on-one aspect in favour of an adventure-type game, and Wolf from Gladiators. And Maria Whittaker.

If you had a 16-bit machine, though, there was another (although "lesser" machines did receive ports at a later date). Psygnosis had their own Barbarian game. You'd think that would be a bit confusing for the masses... surely it wouldn't have taken much effort to come up with an original name. Still, I guess they figured that if the name fit the game, that was all that mattered. And it's the Psygnosis game I'm looking at on the Amiga.


Eh? Wassat?

Psygnosis' Barbarian is an adventure-type game. You take control of Hegor the Barbarian, who must travel through a hostile land of dungeons and traps in order to confront and defeat his evil brother, Necron the Sorceror. And not only are there traps to be sprung or overcome, but also (naturally) hordes of Necron's minions to be dispatched.

Sounds straightforward, and all too easy for someone as mighty as Hegor the Barbarian. Unfortunately, he's been hamstrung by a strange and unwieldy control system. It would have been great if Hegor could have just run in there, muscles glistening, hacking, chopping and leaping with the movement of the joystick and the press of the fire button. Instead, he's controlled via a mouse-driven menu.


Hmmm. This looks too straightforward. I wouldn't trust that rock as far as I could throw it...

This seems really odd, and it feels a bit weird, too. The weirdest part is that Hegor will keep walking unless you tell him to do something different, no matter what. That wall that's blocking his way? He's under the impression that if he walks into it enough times, it'll get out of his way.

It's also quite difficult, especially with a twenty-odd year old mouse that's not as responsive as it once was. That said, the icons are laid out in such a way that you never normally want one that is too far away from the last one you used. And to be fair, you can string together a quite impressive and fluid sequence of moves, once you get used to it.


If he had a heart, he'd just let me have that bow up there...

And once you know what you need to do... there's some trial and error to be found in Barbarian. Sometimes, the way forward is obvious... just walk or run along the screen and hack the creature that's in your way to death. It usually just takes one blow. But there are other times when you'll be strolling along, golden locks flowing in the breeze, and a spiked trap will drop on your head and kill you, seemingly without warning. It's somewhat irritating, as there don't appear to be any clues as to the presence of some of the traps.

It's a curious game, is Psygnosis' Barbarian, and one that's nowhere near as immediate or satisfying as the Palace game. It's quite slow, and when you're playing as a barbarian the last thing you want is to be ponderous. Still, it does have its charm, and I found myself plodding on and coming back to it, just to see if I could get a few screens further. Not what I'd call a classic, but enjoyable enough.

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