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/ Oct 3rd, 2002 No Comments

Although I was as interested as the next guy in the stories of Ken, Ryu, Guile and the other Street Fighter characters (e.g., not all that interested), the reason that Street Fighter II became a revolutionary video game classic was the depth of executable moves and combos unique to the various characters. In search of a new twist on the fighting game genre, developer Saffire apparently lost this focus. Instead of a deep and rewarding fighting system, their game Barbarian pads the story aspect of its 10 characters topped off with a bare-bones role-playing system of character development.

Though the back of the case tries to convince otherwise, Barbarian is a 3D fighting game reminiscent of Power Stone that tries to squeeze the mileage out of its additional features such as the story-based Quest mode and multiplayer support. The fighting takes place in 10 different arenas where the characters battle using two different types of bashing attacks, a throw, and a magic system that functions essentially as a ranged attack or a minor character enhancement. Executing combos requires pressing the slow and/or fast attacks in a sequence, and different combos have different effects on characters ranging from hurling them up into the air to recharging magic. Interactive environments that include objects to throw or hang from round out the game play, but these are easy to overlook due to Barbarian’s drab graphics and colors that make it difficult to distinguish objects one can use to bash opponents. While consistently smooth no matter how many characters are on screen, the animations are similarly bland and uninspiring – compared to Soul Caliber and DoA, they’re even worse.

Considering that the story mode is the most intriguing aspect of Barbarian, it’s surprising that the designers didn’t attempt to make the stories more deep or rewarding. Rather than a video or even an in-engine enactment of events, stories are told through scrolling text read by a voiceover that comes pretty close to sounding foreboding and epic. The stories themselves, while not gag-worthy, always end with the character being attacked. While at first this was hilarious in a bad-movie sense, that charm wore off leaving sequences that were easy to skip or otherwise ignore. Also, though Barbarian boasts 300 different story branches, the option to choose one of two paths often only occurs once every other fight, causing the story mode to feel limited.

The Barbarian characters are about what players would expect in a barbarian game – including the barbarian warrior Out for Vengeance, a lifelong prisoner Out for Vengeance, a giant monkey Out for Vengeance – I mean, out for food…etc. Since the characters’ attacks are all essentially the same, they’re far less interesting than their different appearances at first indicate. Characters differ in their special “rune magic” power-up, but this is not enough to make replaying as a different character worth more than whatever fun, goofy or otherwise, can be extracted from the story.

Like the stories, the RPG aspect of Barbarian is underdeveloped, horribly in its case. After completing one fight in quest mode, characters “advance a level” and get several points to upgrade attributes such as damage or life, or purchase from a few special moves like a double jump. Unfortunately, the improvements outside of the special moves make little noticeable difference. Why the game measures advancement in experience points is beyond me as one victory equaled one level every time.

Barbarian fares much better as a multi-player game thanks to its multi-tap support. Up to four players can compete in a free-for-all or as teams, with up to four additional AI “thugs” to add more to the chaos. Since Barbarian is much easier to pick-up-and-play than more serious fighting games, it’s better than most for involving players of all levels in an exciting beat down.

While Barbarian is to be applauded for trying to put a new twist on fighting games, it’s lacking the depth of moves and graphical excellence of other 3D fighting games. Its excellent versatile multiplayer support can be raucous fun, it’s otherwise a mediocre game that doesn’t blend all its features together well enough to make it more than a novelty.

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi was a long time major contributor to Gaming Illustrated before disappearing of the face of the Earth. His service to GI will never be forgotten.
Roy Rossi

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