StarQuail has created something that could be compared to gaming comfort food. The kind of food that you, a jaded 20-something far removed from child-like wonder and ignorance, can sink their teeth into and be instantly transported back to grandmas kitchen, not far away from all of those old memories that make you feel good. Your first sitting with Tiny Barbarian DX will instantly summon fond memories of the best parts of 80’s action movies based on 30’s fiction. It also takes you back to the time when your controller was a little smaller, had a few less buttons, and 2D platformers were all you had to play (because it was pretty much all devs made).
When the smoke clears, though, and the nostalgia-borne love affair fades, you’re left with a 45 minute game that could have been so much more. A fact that it almost admits brazenly, as the game you buy on Steam is only the first of four chapters. This game is fun and at times very challenging, but it’s impact is ephemeral, and when you finish it, there isn’t much to comeback to.
Not that you need to have immense replayability to be a great game, but you do need to offer an experience that resonates more on its own feet, and not the things that it parodies/pays homage to. As I was playing it, I couldn’t help but think I could just be watching Conan the Barbarian right now. When the credits rolled, I found myself wanting to play Prince of Persia or Mega Man again, more than marveling in the legitimate things that this game does well.
Like its combat, for example. A simple, but responsive kit of mash combos, as well as some aerial maneuvers allow you to show your many different sorts of enemies just how big your muscles are. Ranged enemies can have their projectiles reflected back at them by a well placed sword swing, making the screens where there are diverse mixes of enemies real nail biters sometimes. The bosses, though few, are well timed distractions from the main gameplay, and provide a welcome set of routines that really make them unique portions of the game.
Some of the platforming is well designed too, embracing the idea of the gradual introduction of new elements – horizontal chains to hang from, vertical chains on the bottoms of moving platforms, etc. – then ramping up the difficulty in successive sequences until it becomes a real challenge.
But in an age where it’s contemporaries are also paying homage to games that built the foundation of this genre, let alone the industry, it isn’t good enough to just be “as good” or “as fun” as these old games. Rygar could have never been Guacamelee!, because the tech wasn’t there. Unfortunately, Tiny Barbarian DX seems to be only as good as the games from which it is inspired, and that’s a real shame.
The game is fun and silly. It’s tight and responsive. It’s tough and rewarding. At the end of the day, though, its nothing special