For some reason a number of you seem to be under the impression that this is a modern sequel to the 8- bit classic Barbarian from Palace Software. Well, whilst the two games may share the same name that’s where any similarities end. Perhaps, the best way to describe Barbarian for the Xbox is as a hybrid of Capcom’s Power Stone and Namco’s Soul Calibur, with a dash of mild RPG action thrown in for good measure. Broadly speaking, the game is split into two main sections; the first being the solo player Quest mode and the second the multiplayer option. The former sees you selecting from one of ten varied warriors – each of whom has their own agenda, for example tracking down the people who killed their father (and other such guff).
Having picked a fighter you’re given a bit of their background, and then it’s into the action. As stated, the game shares a startling number of similarities with the aforementioned Power Stone. Fights take place in some quite nicely designed interactive environments ranging from ancient tombs to dense jungles. Most of these feature sections that can be climbed upon (poles) or hung from (overhead bars). These can be exploited to gain an advantage over or escape from an opponent. The other big similarity with Capcom’s game is the way that in addition to your standard attacks, you can also grab hold of items lying around the arena and use them as makeshift weapons. For example, large pillars can be grabbed and swung around, whilst rocks can be picked up and subsequently hurled in the direction of your foe(s).
In solo mode most of the fights are one-on-one affairs, which simply involve knocking the enemy out. To add variety to proceedings you occasionally have to fight several opponents at once or defend an item from enemy attacks for a certain time. It’s all much of a muchness though. Multiplayer mode, works along a similar principal, although here up to four players (and four computer fighters) can square off. With eight fighters on screen the dreadful camera angles can often lead to battles degenerating into fiascos. The game’s awkward combat system also lets down what could have been quite an enjoyable game. Attacks feel sluggish to perform and when engaged in one of the game’s pre-programmed combos you’ll leave yourself wide open to counter strikes (thus rendering them largely redundant). Worse still, in most instances victory can be achieved by simply hammering away at the buttons and hoping for the best – hardly the stuff of great gaming.
A few token magic attacks do little to improve the quality of gameplay but even when you’ve built your character up there’s still a distinct lack of depth to the fights. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Barbarian has improved little on the PS2 version and features nothing to distinguish it from its Sony counterpart. It’s a shame really, because with a bit more effort this could have been quite enjoyable. Granted, the game is fun in a mindless sort of way, but the fact that you can buy a Dreamcast with a copy of Power Stone 2 for less than this hardly singles out Barbarian as being good value for money.
Make no mistake, we’ve seen worse games come in over the last few months, but we’ve also seen a lot better. Ultimately, this is best avoided.