Review by Pengo

"Save Your Money. Power Stone 3 This Ain't."

For years, I've felt that one of the biggest benefits of console games is the unique multiplayer component. There's something about having a bunch of friends in the same room, playing the same on the same screen, with everyone trying to kill one another, that is preferable to the facelessness of playing PC games online. To that end, I have always been on the lookout for great multiplayer console games, and my endless search has, at times, been well-rewarded, with excellent titles such as Poy Poy, Power Stone 2, the Bomberman games, and the occasional high-profile kart racing game. But for every Mario Kart, there are dozens of Wu-Tang: Shaolin Styles lying in wait to take your hard-earned cash and give you a sloppily produced game experience in return. And, despite what I consider to be very discriminatory spending habits on my part, I do end up with the occasional lemon. Fortunately, in the case of Barbarian, the cost to me was merely the $5.99 rental fee, rather than the $49.99 that the game currently retails for. Still, I would list the game's value at about a dollar, so I would still like to save a few others the pain of wasting more on this title than you will get out of it.
First, let me begin with the high points. The graphics in Barbarian are very good. There are about a dozen playable characters, and each is well-designed and well-animated. They're a little generic, in that you have the average guy, the average girl, the big, huge guy, the badass chick, and so on, but in this day and age, it's somewhat difficult to innovate with regards to fighting game characters and maintain a straight face. Sure, Power Stone 2 has a wide variety of characters unlike those seen in other games, but one's a cowboy, one's a kid that turns into a robot, and one's a fat chef who turns into a pink dinosaur. Now, I'll take good-natured creativity over ostentatious and unimaginative tenebrosity any day of the week, but some of you cantankerous Virtua Fighter types might really get into this line-up of indistinct comic book wanna-be's.
Moving along, I must say that the levels are all large and detailed. They are dark and gloomy, and fit the grim mood of the game perfectly. Also, there are often ways to smash your way out of the first part of a level and start kicking butt in a whole new area, like in Mortal Kombat 3, but it's barely impressive to do so, and hardly useful. As these added parts pass for new levels in later stages, you'll end up seeing them one way or the other eventually. That is, if you can stand to play the game that long.
The sounds, which rarely make or break a game for me, are passable, but repetitive and uninspired. Ripping a tree out of the ground will sound convincing enough, but hearing your enemy's unexcited cry when you hit them with it will probably fail to convince you that it really hurts all that much. There is a narrator who reads the story to you in between levels, and he's got a sufficiently deep and booming voice, I suppose, but he isn't as intimidating as the much more terse ring announcer from the Mortal Kombat series, so it might leave you feeling that the guy would be better off promoting new movie releases or monster truck rallies than trying to make you believe that Barbaria is a really rough kind of place.
And now, the really bad part, and the fact that I haven't said one word about game play yet should scare you. This game plays *TERRIBLY*. It makes you wonder how anyone could have released it like this. Did they play it first? Did they have fun? Did they think it was cool? Well, if they did, they were wrong, because it's abysmal. First off, it’s purely a button masher. You either hit the strong attack button or the weak one, and your character executes a series of attacks that you will become used to seeing repeated far too often. There’s no thought given to where or how to attack your opponent, as there was in Soul Calibur; you just start smashing the attack buttons and hope that your combo connects before your enemy’s does. You can fire projectiles which, at long range, will probably miss, and at close range, will probably be less effective than simply smashing the attack buttons again. You can power up your weapon, which makes you quite a bit tougher, but no real planning goes into this, as you would be best off doing this early and often. There are magic spells and special moves, none of which I care to learn, but which seem to serve the computer opponents quite well. One enemy took away half of my life by turning sort of green and spinning around in a circle for about half a minute with his sword pointed upward, bouncing me up and down on it over and over again. It was great.
Another huge problem is that the game has a very sluggish pace. Characters bound gently across the levels as if in a dream. Sometimes, they pick up large pieces of stone or other debris and send them sailing peacefully across the screen in a perfectly straight line, as if carried by a tranquil breeze, until they miss their target and fall apart against some wall or another. It’s very settling. Too bad this is supposed to be an action-packed brawler. And if you really want to talk about slow, there were times when the lag brought even the usual lackadaisical pace of the game to a near-standstill. I don’t know what was demanding so much processor power at the time, but slowdown of this degree is inexcusable in a commercial product released on the standardized hardware that consoles provide.
But that’s not even the worst of it. Glitches abound in this product. Perhaps the makers were rushed to deliver the product in time for that mad Labor Day video game buying season, but this game makes “artificial intelligence” look like an oxymoron. Even if you can excuse the common mistakes of having computer-controlled enemies get caught up on the scenery once in awhile, which I can’t, this defect allows you to demolish your foes by simply standing where they can’t reach you and mashing away on the attack buttons. The enemy will run back at you again and again, only to be struck down each time. It has no ability to change its tactics and thusly perishes in some very idiotic ways. In one level, after having given my player the ability to come back to life with one hit point after being killed, the enemies simply stopped moving after striking me down the first time, leaving me to win the match at my leisure. This is an ability that any character can be given. Didn’t anyone test this to see how it played out in the game before it was released?
And that leads us to the story mode, where characters can be upgraded between fights and players are given narrative set-ups and resolutions to the battles. I applaud the designers for implementing a branching story mode and experience point-style bonuses into a genre not known for such depth, but it isn’t enough to save the experience. The plots are generally uninteresting, and some of the writing is hokey at best. For example, the character featured in the opening sequence is a barbarian whose family has been slain while he was away and now he must go on a quest for vengeance. Sound familiar? If not, go out and see any action movie ever made. I also played as Jinn, a foxy demon chick lady bent on torturing mortals. Her story mode features her going to new places, meeting new people, and then killing them, because she is evil. It’s not exciting reading, and the drawn-out epilogue nearly put me to sleep.
Finally, a word regarding the whole reason I got this game: multiplayer fun. Well, there isn’t any. It’s even less fun than the single player battles, somehow, and after playing a few games with most of the various characters, we were pretty much done with this dog. Sure, you can play with up to four human- or computer-controlled characters, plus up to four “thugs,” who are weaklings and serve only to disrupt the real fighters from executing their combos on one another, but why on earth would you want to, given how boring the actual combat is? Sure, it’s kind of fun to pick up some thugs after they’ve been knocked down and swing them at your enemies like bags of wet sand, but the fact that these thugs do nothing to try to stop you from using their bodies as bludgeons only brings back to mind the many gameplay problems and poor artificial intelligence.
In summation, Barbarian is a sluggish and uninspired knock-off of other, better games that will only serve to dash your hopes of owning a good, four-player fighting game. Rent it if you must; you will certainly waste less money than if you would buy it straight out, but you’ll probably have more fun if you check out Time Splitters or Twisted Metal: Black instead.

Gameplay: 2
Graphics: 8
Sound: 4
Value: 1
Tilt: 0 (Only because I can’t go lower. It actually makes me angry that this game didn’t bother trying to live up to expectations.)

Overall: 3

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 09/11/02, Updated 09/11/02

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