Barbarian (Psygnosis)

Title           Barbarian (Psygnosis)
Game Type	Action Adventure
Company		Psygnosis, 1987
Players		1
Compatibility	All Amigas (WHDLoad HD installer available)
HD Installable  With Patch
Submission      Seppo Typpö ( Profiled Reviewer

When I bought my first Amiga (A500) back in 1987, one of the first games I
bought for the Commodore's new wonder machine was Psygnosis' hack'n'slash
adventure, Barbarian. Now, after all these years I had a chance to try it
again, thanks to the excellent WHDLoad HD installer. So let's step into
the time machine and travel back to the dawn of the Amiga, to the time of

Following the adventures of a young barbarian called Hegor, it is up to
the player to guide him throught a flip-screen arcade adventure, fighting
monsters and collecting weapons and other items as he progresses through
the game - not an easy task as all sorts of dangerous situations needs to
be solved, and sudden death is usually only one step away from the hero.

Barbarian is a controversial game. While it was one of the first games
that tried to utilise the power of 16-bit computers, the game controls and
simple gameplay severely cramped the style of the graphics and sound. You
either like Barbarian or hate it - even now, 14 years after its release,
conversations heat up when somebody mentions this 'golden oldie'. Such is
the 'magic' of the game - and when playing it in order to revive my
memories for this review it was quite easy to see why it made such an
impact in people's minds.

After the game is loaded, the player is greeted with a short intro.
Considering Psygnosis became famous for their magnificent intros in games
like Awesome, Barbarian's short animation is bit bland and  unimaginative.
Still, the facial animations of Hegor when he strikes a thick metal chain
in two with his broadsword brought a faint smile to my face - I remember
watching this through again and again while trying to get into the actual
game - one needed to click the mouse button at a precise moment to exit
from the intro - and this feature was still present in the WHDLoad patched
game. Oh, the memories...

After the intro and the quite impressive 16-colour picture of a dragon the
player is thrown into the actual game. First thing to notice is the
simplistic nature of the graphics. The sprites are big and moderately well
animated but the backgrounds are dull. Things pick up slightly when the
player proceed further into the game - but still, while the graphics were
impressive back in 1987, they now look severely dated. However, thanks to
the talented graphics artist Garvan Corbett, they still look crisp and
stylish. The main character and the imaginatively designed monsters look
especially good.

The sound is very basic - some sampled grunts and weapon noises. There's
no music which is a shame as it would have definitely enchanced the
atmosphere like it did in the unofficial sequel, the Obliterator.

The gameplay still has the original feel. The actions of the main
character are 'programmed' by  clicking (with the mouse) a set ot icons
which are conveniently located in a two-page strip at the bottom of the
game screen. Joystick and keyboard controls can also be used but the most
accurate control device is the good old Amiga rodent.

When I say programmed I mean it - it is possible to program Hegor to do
different actions in a desired sequence - for example, you can order Hegor
to do a somersault (in order to avoid enemy fire) and then attack the
enemy with the sword. You can also move around by clicking the actual game
screen (for example, if you want Hegor to go down the ladder, just point
at the ladder with the mouse cursor, click the mouse button and Hegor will
walk next to it and climb down to the next screen). With some practise it
is possible to guide Hegor through a screens with considerable ease.

Unfortunately there are few things that make these innovative controls a
bit problematic too. Probably the worst thing is the control lag which
means there is a slight delay between clicking the icon and the response
of the main character. Again it is possible to learn to cope with this and
anticipate the problems with carefully timed mouse actions, but sometimes
the icon click does not seem to produce any response at all (as if Hegor
has his own free will). The 'final nail in the coffin' comes from
spreading the control icons over two pages of the control strip. This
results in some frustration as the player needs to flip between the two
strips in order to fully control Hegor - not something you want to do in
the heat of battle or when you have to quickly execute a set of actions.

The level design is pretty simplistic, too - what makes it challenging are
the various traps and enemy behaviour which the player needs to learn the
hard way. There's usually no visible clues alerting you to the traps - the
first time you notice a trap is when you fall into it - which is very
frustrating, considering you have only three lifes and no save game
option. The slow animation of the main character and the control lag cause
problems in combat - the player needs to precisely time the attacks in
order to survive - and even then luck plays a big part in the final
outcome. This game is definitely not recommended for the short-tempered
amongst us - lots of patience, good memory (you need to remember the
locations of all the traps) and cunning planning are needed to push Hegor
through the game and to victory.

Despite the problems in the gameplay and the heavily outdated
audiovisuals, Barbarian still has some 'old skool' charm. If you learn to
deal with its quirky interface and ruthless game design, it provides you
with some good old-fashioned fun, even after all these years. Psygnosis
came a long way from this, releasing some of the best Amiga games ever
during their heyday, but leaving aside Brataccas with its 8-bit roots,
Barbarian was where it all started - this was the game that brought
Psygnosis into the limelight. Barbarian may not be a classic game, it may
not even be a very good game (and some people probably think it is
complete trash)  but even with its faults it is still an important part of
the Amiga gaming history, and the history of many Amiga games players -
like me.

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