Retro-inspired 2D action games are a dime a dozen so let's see if Tiny Barbarian DX has what it takes to stand out in a crowded genre.
Tiny Barbarian DX begins with you fending off a horde of monsters atop a mountain. Once you inevitably perish, the main menu is displayed and you can't help but feel that this is going to be one enjoyable adventure. As you begin your epic quest, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how simple and responsive the controls are. All you do is run around, jump, and attack. It's basic stuff that could easily be handled on a NES controller. The platforming and combat is intuitive and enjoyable and when you factor in the old-school visual style and catchy chiptunes, you're left with an overwhelmingly retro experience that's initially quite fun.
I say "initially" because Tiny Barbarian DX features many frustrating moments that'll surely test your patience. Whether it's a tricky platforming section that forces you to string together a succession of perfectly-timed jumps or a boss that you don't quite know how to defeat until you face it a dozen times and eventually figure it out; you'll regularly want to just put your Switch down and do something else with your time. Don't get me wrong; I love a challenge. However, there's a difference between an enjoyable level of difficulty and frustration. Although Tiny Barbarian DX certainly has a lot of the former, it also includes a bit too much of the latter.
On the plus side, the campaign in Tiny Barbarian DX includes four somewhat lengthy mini-adventures that can be completed in about 45 minutes each if your skills are up to snuff. When I completed the first of these episodes, I was delighted to see that I wasn't done with the journey yet. Each episode features a decent amount of variety as you'll find yourself battling atop massive moving vehicles, riding beasts (including giant bees), and fighting a distinct array of bosses such as a large snake and a monkey who's very reminiscent of King Kong. Overall, it adds up to one significantly lengthy and memorable adventure.
All of that being said, the fact that the campaign is the epitome of linear is very disappointing. You won't find a stage select, world map, or any Metroidvania elements. Instead, you merely work your way through screen after screen of platforming and combat. Once you enter a new screen, you'll continue there if you happen to perish. This linearity combines with the fact that you'll be playing the same sections over and over again to create a tedious sense of repetition. Sure, it's satisfying once you actually make progress but you'll often find yourself playing the same long stretches repeatedly until your enthusiasm for overcoming the challenge dwindles. Also, the platforming and combat are generally basic and the stage designs don't do enough to mix up the gameplay.
Although the basic gameplay features solid controls, some portions will drive you insane. The first example that comes to mind is controlling the lion-like beasts that you ride. You can never tell which direction your character is facing so sometimes, you want to attack behind you and end up attacking in front. Trying to run and jump accurately while riding is problematic, too, as you slip around and miss jumps as a result. The giant bees control a lot easier but you'll find yourself constantly falling off due to other giant bees flocking around and that merely results in a chaotic mess as opposed to actually being fun.
One of the coolest features of Tiny Barbarian DX is that you can play cooperatively with a friend. Doing so makes the campaign a bit easier if your partner is a capable 2D gamer. That being said, if you or your pal bites the dust then the only way to revive them is by offering half of your remaining health points. As a result, certain sections may be easier to master solo. In the end, I'm glad that you can play with a friend because it adds a layer of comradery that you don't often get to experience in the 2D action genre.
Tiny Barbarian DX is a decent take on retro 2D action games. Plus, you can play it with a friend. However, the frustration factor is high and its linear campaign will make you wish there was more than just traversing from point A to point B.
- + Solid retro 2D action gameplay
- + Somewhat lengthy campaign that contains four mini-adventures in one
- + Playing cooperatively is a lot of fun
- - Gameplay can be very frustrating
- - Extremely linear campaign / stage designs are often tedious and repetitive
- - Some parts have irritating controls