A FUN AND AMBITIOUS ACTION GAME FOR SMARTPHONES
Pros: Innovative and surprisingly good control scheme. Fun upgrade paths. Sense of humor.
Cons: Be prepared: there’s an in-game purchase you will want to buy before too long.
Bardbarian is one of the most surprising iOS games I’ve ever played. It’s a good blend of fun, humor, replay value, and quality construction. A few elements are quite clever and innovative, and the game layers on several levels of game mechanics without ever feeling complicated.
It’s a fast-paced action game requiring joystick-like control to run around, dodge bullets, and shoot enemies. Your main character doesn’t actually fight the enemies, but he’s surrounded by a party of followers who can. As you progress through the game you unlock different options for types of followers. They range from archers to wizards to robot-building engineers, and they have a colorful diversity of talents. By recombining different follower types, you can experiment with a huge number of different playstyles and strategies. This gives the game lots of replay value.
The game is set of a 2D map which feels about the size of like a football field. You can’t see the entire field at once, only a portion of it as you run around. But there’s a mini-map that shows you some representation of where all the enemies are. You use a thumb on the screen as directional input, joystick-style.
What’s surprising is how well this actually works. I’ve never played a game where you place your thumb on the screen like a joystick, and actually liked the results. But there is something different about the way Barbarian makes it work. Instead of showing you a graphical d-pad and making you press virtual buttons, you just place your thumb anywhere you want on the screen. Slide your thumb to the right from where you put it down, and the character will run right. Slide it to the left from where you put it down, and the character will run left. You can pick up your thumb and move it to another spot on the screen – anywhere on the screen – and start over. A small transluscent circle shows you where you put your thumb down and the spot you’re currently rooted to.
It’s subtle. It’s simple. It works amazingly well. You never have to look down at your thumb basically. You don’t have to hold the phone just-so and keep your thumb in position over some stupid virtual joystick that’s taking up a big chunk of your screen.
The game’s theme is a mashup of medieval combat and heavy-metal rock and roll. Literally, your character runs around with an electric guitar, rocking out guitar licks while his minions do the fighting around him. The longer you play the more “notes” you generate. These are spent on summoning more party members, or on temporary boosts to damage, shield, and running speed.
These fundamentals work really well. You run close to an enemy and your party members start shooting at it. If your party is made up of archers, they’ll have long range and shoot from a far distance. If your party is made up of brawlers, you’ll have to get closer – but they do more damage per shot. There are several kinds of wizards and other creatures in the party member list. But in any one game your party can only be made up of 3 unit types. You have to select your 3 types before you play, and stick with that choice until your next game. If that combo doesn’t work out, you can try another.
Each party member type has its own upgrade path, which you spend your hard-earned gold to unlock. There are upgrades for your main character too (things like his health and running speed). Last are some upgrades to the environment itself: one upgrade gets some of the folks in the town to keep their shops open and help you fight the bad guys. Another sets the town drunk loose to vomit on the bad guys.
The game has a fun sense of humor. One of the upgrades you can buy is called “body spray” and it allows your party to bunch more closely together. You can expect a few fart jokes and such, but the game overall is witty and enjoyable. The lively rock-and-roll soundtrack rounds it out.
Basically, if you like Tenacious D, you will love Bardbarian.
You might ask why the iPhone version costs a buck but Android is free. Well, almost as soon as you play you’ll be presented with the chance to buy a golden guitar that doubles your gold collection rate. Gold drops from enemies as they are slain, and you need gold to unlock every kind of upgrade in the game. Earning gold 2x as fast will get you through the game with less grinding, especially as you move higher and higher through the upgrades. Most of them get very expensive at their higher levels.
This “golden guitar” costs real money. They’ve experimented a bit with the price but last I saw it was $2 on iPhone and $3 on Android. So either way, if you buy this extremely useful item, you will enjoy the game more, and it will wind up costing you a total of three dollars no matter what kind of phone you play it on. I’m not sure why they split the price up differently on iOS. I guess they’re experimenting to find the optimal way to make money with the game.
I recommend this game if you like the sound of anything you’ve heard. It’s well put together. Attention to detail is strong. Quality is good. I’ve had no crashes and very few glitches. I really never thought I would be able to play a live-action joystick game like this on my iPhone but it works amazingly well. I’ve played for many many hours already. I hope you enjoy the game as much as I have.
Here’s a trailer showing some actual gameplay.