Indie Platformer Marathon: Barbarium

Unlike the rest of the games in the Marathon, Barbarium was actually released after the Marathon started. That was still over two months ago, however. This is why I used the word Marathon for this series. Anyway, Barbarium is the first game from Hypnohustler Games, which is actually a single person with no prior programming experience. It’s quite impressive, considering, and I’m not surprised it took two years to make.

As the title suggests, it’s a game about a barbarian. By which I mean a huge, hulking man wearing nothing but a fur speedo, carrying a big sword in one hand and a laser pistol in the other.

Oh yeah, there are laser pistols too.

It’s a post-apocalyptic world, see, where apparently civilization has reverted back to barbarism. It’s like Conan the Barbarian meets The Road Warrior, but with lasers and jetpacks instead of cars. The game plays like an exploration platformer, although the focus is shifted a bit more towards action than exploration. Fortunately, the action is solid, with shooting, slashing and blocking all playing important roles when dealing with various enemies. The laser pistol does less damage than the sword, but is useful for taking on enemies at range, and certain enemies can only be dispatched with the sword after being shot first. Managing all those controls was a little confusing at first, and I spent some time switching between the two control schemes (basically delineated by whether movement is on the left or right hand), but I eventually got the hang of it. By the time I’d cleared the first boss and things started to get more interesting, I was jumping, shooting and slashing like a pro.

Barbarium goes all-in with the barbarian tropes. The action is suitably violent, with limbs separating from opponents after a well-timed sword strike. The barbarian can either chat with the locals (by standing near them) or simply slaughter them, and he heals himself by eating pieces of meat. Oh, and he can also collect and drink beer. I actually didn’t know what beer did from a gameplay perspective until the very end of the game, when I discovered that the barbarian deals more damage while drunk. Pretty standard macho barbarian stuff, all told. Sadly, that includes this:

I’m sure the game’s author would defend this by saying that it’s true to the barbarian stereotypes, or perhaps by arguing that the barbarian protagonist is in a similar state of undress. Fortunately I don’t have to spend time refuting these arguments, because others have already done so. Someday people will realize that this stuff is no different than having an offensive racial stereotype on prominent display in the game. Besides, barbarian fiction often has female warriors too; in Conan the Barbarian, it’s actually Conan who ends up tied to a tree.

Moving past the fact that the only women in the game are tied up and awaiting rescue (not that there’s much character variety anyway; the only other friendly characters are identical-looking old men), Barbarium is a good time. It’s impressively long for a free offering, with four big areas to explore, a bunch of upgrades to find, and several bosses to battle. There’s also a mechanic by which earning a higher score (measured in “macho points”, naturally) can open new routes (usually shortcuts or bonus areas) and unlock better information from the locals. The best way to improve one’s score is to track down the various treasures, which usually aren’t too far off the beaten path but provide some motivation to explore a little. There’s also beer and bits of scrap metal to collect. I think collecting more scrap metal may lead to different endings, but I’m not sure.

As you can see from the screenshots, the art is very lo-fi, but there’s a consistency to the visual presentation that holds everything together. The desert caves and ruined cities can be quite evocative despite the simple graphics, producing a mishmash world of post-apocalyptic imagery that perfectly matches the game’s silly tone. These are exactly the places I wanted my laser-pistol-wielding barbarian to rampage through.

Does such a rampaging barbarian appeal to you? If so, it’s definitely worth giving Barbarium a look, especially since it’s available completely free of charge. There’s a download version (direct link) which is the version I played, but it’s also available in browser form. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s certainly impressive for a first-time programmer and designer, and it’s much heftier than the average free platformer out there. Chop up a few barbarian henchmen and see what you think.

EDIT: The Indie Platformer Marathon is now complete! See all the posts here.

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