Barbarian is the latest arena fighting game for the PS2 platform. Players can take the role of one of ten different characters as they battle for supremacy in different environments across the world of Barbaria.
If you are looking for an innovative break-the-mold type of title, then Barbarian is not going to be it. However, if you want one of the best fighting games out there, then Barbarian will fit the bill nicely.
The various arenas in Barbarian are very well done and have a lot more interesting elements than even the much touted Dead or Alive series on the Xbox. As your fighter moves around the 3D arena, there are a variety of cool things to pick up and swing or toss at your opponents. Depending on where you are fighting, these can include thrones, rocks, carts, pillars and even a frozen fish. Most of the arenas have multiple levels as well. If you are thrown off a cliff, instead of dying you might find that you fall to another level where you can continue your battle royal.
And besides just throwing, you can jump up and grab things too, then move around above your enemy monkey-bar style.
Like all fighting games of this type, there are many special moves that both give players the edge and keep the game from becoming a slugfest to see who can pound the "X" key the fastest. Unfortunately for most games like the Street Fighter series, the special moves are very complex, difficult to master and even more difficult to use in the heat of battle. The designers of Barbarian realize this and made their special moves very simple. In fact, almost every special move consists of just two keys in various combinations. Even if you forget, randomly pushing those two keys will likely let your fighter do something.
The different characters are pretty diverse. They each have special powers, different strengths and weaknesses. Some might be really strong and can lift even the heaviest objects in the arena, while others are weaker but more agile. Magic power and abilities also are different enough to add some flavor.
Playing head to head against a human opponent is probably the best way to enjoy this game. With simple special move controls, even a novice will have a chance in the arena, or at least won’t look like a total whipping boy right off the bat.
The single player game mostly consists of going from arena to arena, fighting different opponents. Eventually you can improve your character, which adds a bit of role-playing element to the picture, though this is a bit of a stretch. The game does do some things to keep the game interesting. In addition to fighting the big bad boss on each level, there are also lackeys that show up. The lackeys are not as powerful as the boss, but can hurt you if you are not careful. One of the most fun things is to tackle the lackey and then use them as a club to beat the boss with, though this takes a lot of practice.
The graphics in the game are suburb. All the special effects like fire spells look great and play fast on the PS2 without any slowdown. Character movements are fluid and realistic. Especially the more nimble characters like Stitch the undead who moves like a rag doll and Mongo the ape who moves like a monkey, all look frighteningly real.
The sound is good. There is background music that mostly stays out of the way, which is what you are looking for in a fighting game. Also, when you throw objects they sound good when they shatter, which gives you a real sense of accomplishment. Look! I just threw a boulder across the room and it shattered. Me strong!
The two areas where the game is a bit weak are value and fun, for the same reason. While the game comes off the line powerfully, it’s easy to lose interest quickly as well. Although there are 10 different arenas, once you go through them all, there is really not much new to keep your interest. The gameplay becomes repetitive quickly.
As a test I brought the game to a weekend LAN party. When it first arrived people were playing it like mad for several hours, but by the end of the weekend nobody had an interest in playing much anymore. Should Barbarian get a strong community of players around it then it will probably be worthwhile for people to practice and become expert players. With the simple special moves feature, it’s pretty easy to master a character or two.
In the final analysis, Barbarian is basically the next great title in a somewhat limited genre. The improvements made are comparative baby steps, but more than enough to make this title the best of its class. If you like 3D fighting titles, then Barbarian is not one to miss. It earns an impressive 4 GiN Gems for its treasure trove of awards.