Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on PC. There may be differences between versions.
Barbarians smash, bards sing. Mix the two up and you get the Bardbarian: a savage who uses his ax for a whole different kind of shredding. While the concept of this silly game is fun, is a Bardbarian worth having as a party member, or should this guy be left at the Tavern?
Brad the Barbarian normally rents himself out to a village in danger, but one day he wakes up and decides he’s tired of killing. Instead he wants to follow his dream of becoming a bard, though an unlucky coincidence means the village is also under attack on the same day. So Brad and his pet Ratccoon (fittingly another mash-up, this time between a rat and a raccoon) set off to save the village with the power of rock. There’s no real story after the opening cutscene, so don’t expect any kind of rock epic here. It’s just a goofy premise for the game and that’s it.
As a whole I found Bardbarian’s presentation to just be boring. Everything worked fine, the hud wasn’t intrusive (though it does do that “mobile port” problem where the pause button is always present) and I could tell what everything was at a glance. The characters kind of reminded me of the “Madness” animations on Newgrounds if only because of their lack of limbs and hands that are basically circles. Otherwise, it’s just boring. It’s a boring empty field. The most creative character designs come from cameos from Meatboy/Isaac (the latter rides on the former) and Octodad.
Bardbarian is sort of like a tower defense game. Enemies spawn on the right side and follow the path until they reach the left side where they’ll try to destroy the town crystal. I controlled the Bardbarian and had no direct attacking abilities. Instead I would summon allies who would follow me around and fight for me. The allies always stick close and just attack whatever target is closest to me, and enemies did attack back so I had to keep moving to keep them out of the line of fire. To summon allies I would use notes, which were always replenishing (though they replenished faster if I stood still). I could also spend the notes to play songs that could buff my allies attack, defense, and speed.
Enemies ranged from trolls to orcs to demons, and each of them had their own health and attack pattern. Despite this, enemies all felt very similar and I could defeat most of them by just running circles and letting ranged allies pick them off. The game lasts 20 waves and every fifth wave was a boss fight. These, again, basically could be defeated by running circles around them and letting my ranged characters pick them off. There’s really no way I could get through all 20 waves in a single run, but killed enemies would drop gold that I could collect. Upon death I would go to a shop screen and purchase upgrades for my allies and songs, and then do it all again and try to get further next time.
Yet there’s really little else to Bardbarian. There was an endless survival mode if you really enjoyed the gameplay and wanted something beyond the 20 waves. There was also a weird endless runner mode that completely changed how the game worked. Here I had to escape an ever approaching wall of demons while avoiding projectiles, and got rewarded with gold for doing so. Yet there’s just not much here and I didn’t see much reason to play the game for that long. Within an hour I was bored of the gameplay loop and I never managed to shake that feeling.
Sadly, there’s nothing to really redeem Bardbarian. This game really wants to be a big rocker, but at best it’s a decent opening act.