Friday, 8 February 2013

Barbarian II & Barbarian II (Amiga)

Barbarian 2 Psygnosis title screen amiga
Today I thought I'd take a look at two games in the same post, both of them called Barbarian II, and both of them on the Amiga. Because playing them separately would just get confusing.

No don't close the page yet! Even if you don't give a fuck about these games (and I can't blame you if you don't) there's a couple of screenshots here that'll make it worth scrolling through. The rest... perhaps not so much.

First up is the Psygnosis game.

I love old school pixel animation, especially when it's of an evil pagan magician dressed like a Spartan from 300 with an oversized ribcage, turning himself into Ghost Rider the Grey to play some plasma globe basketball.

And that's disk one done with. One floppy disk for just 40 seconds of animation. Totally worth it.

I'm pretty sure this image is just a scan of the box cover (mobygames link), not hand pixelled, but hey it's still a nice piece of art.

So who am I playing as then? The scimitar wielding warrior? The archer armed with 80s hair and a longbow? Or maybe even the bird; wouldn't be the first time for a Psygnosis game. Well the game's called Barbarian II so it's pretty obvious who it's going to be...

That's right, someone entirely different! A blond Viking-looking chap with red sneakers and no qualms about throwing his legs around without any pants on.
He might run like a robot, but he's actually a pretty acrobatic guy, able to roll and somersault across the level effortlessly. Shame I've got zero control of him when he's in the air, but other than that I've got no complaints.

Well okay there's no music, so I'll complain about that.

I walked down one of the paths through the trees in the background and (after a non-negligible loading time) found these guys waiting to ambush me. Fortunately they're being cautious and trying to creep up on me slowly, so I can basically run circles around them. Or jump over them and roll back again, there's no damage for colliding with enemies.

By the way, I walked back through the trees to the road I was flying kicking across a few screenshots ago and tried walking up into the screen instead of down into the background this time. Took me back to the exact same place. Up or down, doesn't make any difference.

I have to hold the fire button, then move the stick in various directions to pull off the different combat moves. I can block, punch, kick, flying kick etc, and it works reasonably well. Enemies die in a couple of hits so the fights don't drag on either.

Bit of a weird stone entrance back there, seeing as there's nothing else around it but trees. Maybe it's just an archway. I guess I'll go find out, after I've raided this chest.

There's a whole cave network back here! All set up with stone floor tiles, wooden doors and metal ladders. I think... I may have stumbled onto the Batcave.

I soon found a dagger lying around, dramatically increasing my offensive power! Possibly! I dunno, I can't seem to even hit these slime monsters with it.

Some games let you jump onto stairs, some just let you fall right through, face first. Now I know which this is.

I can't even jump onto higher ledges, I need to use the stairs and getting him onto them is awkward.

Still, there's ladders around too I can use. I like how his torso remains entirely stationary, the guy doesn't even move his shoulders.

I don't want to sound like I'm criticising the sprites by the way, I really do like this guy. I think he's got a lot of character. I especially like the way he sometimes bounces down staircases head-first if I slip.

Hidden floor traps, who doesn't love 'em? No visual clues, no warning signs, just a large metal shaft up your ass for landing on the wrong piece of floor. Fortunately it didn't take off a massive amount of health, or else I'd really be whining.

There's a door over there and if it's anything like the one I just came across, it's going to be locked. So I'm going to have to find a key before going up there.

Well I've found the key, up there on the right. The bad news is that I think I just broke the floor with my nose trying to get to it. I definitely heard a crack.

Also there's a new dagger up there to my left, and I might need it. My dagger meter over there on the left seems to be shrinking as I hit people and I don't know if that's attack power or weapon condition, but it definitely seems like something I don't want to run out of.

Well this is inconvenient. I can only manage to take a couple of steps up this staircase before the spiky slime monsters shoot out their spines at me, and it only takes one hit to send him bouncing right back down again on his ass. And you especially don't want to be bouncing down anything on your ass when the floor's covered in spines and you don't have pants on.

Fortunately they're slow and dumb, and I'm a Viking ninja. Maybe I can lure them away, then run back and get up the stairs before they catch me.

Surprise! Though you were going to pick up an arrow didn't you mate? Nope, you just got game over'd by a hidden spike trap. That'll teach you not to go walking on... the floor.

Well to be fair I survived this, got up to that higher platform, then got game over'd by falling down onto the spike a second time through my own ineptitude... but it's still a dumb bit of game design!

Alas poor... Begor? Degor? Hegor? Anyway he's trapped in the lightning dimension now, or whatever, so now our sorcerer friend from the intro can get back to slowly transforming into one of the Xenomorphs from Alien, or whatever he's up to now.

And that's it, no lives, continues or passwords. I was almost starting to like the game as well.I suppose I should give it one more go before turning it off, now that I know to avoid walking on the floor and going near useful items.


Attempt 3: Found a grappling hook. Didn't help me. Turns out that it replaces your weapon, so all I could do was somersault around enemies looking for something to fire it up at.

Attempt 4: Found my way out of the caves into a town, with a long sword and a pocket full of keys! Turns out people here want Hegor dead too though, so there's no safe haven here.

Not this guy though, he just wants my money. I'd forgotten I even have money to be honest, so I might as well throw some his way and see what an axe can do.

Couldn't figure out how to use the axe in the end, so I made my last stand with my poor battered sword. Didn't survive it, but at least I got 20% through the game this time.

I didn't really enjoy this game much, but I did kind of want to. The lack of lives, checkpoints, save points etc. drained a lot of the 'give a fuck' out of me. I'd rather not play on iron man mode if I can help it, it's not my thing. Also not being able to jump on the ledges started to get annoying. I kept falling through stairs, getting knocked down stairs, trying to jump on a ledge then falling through it... then through the stairs below it. And what's worse is I never did manage to get a screenshot of him bouncing down a staircase head first.

Barbarian 2: The Dungeon of Drax Palace title screen Amiga
This must have scared the shit out of people in 1988, a 3D looking skeleton arm reaching out of the title screen and a voice saying "Follow me!". Especially as the game came out on like 9 game systems and as far as I know only the Amiga version does this. I can imagine some kid telling his friends what he saw and them saying, "But we own the game too and we never saw that. IT ONLY HAPPENS FOR YOU".

Okay, so this is Palace's Barbarian II: Dungeon of Drax, (aka Axe of Rage in the US), the sequel to Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (aka Death Sword in the US). I have no idea how Psygnosis and Palace managed to end up releasing competing games with the same name twice.

Barbarian 2 character select
This version of Barbarian II was once famous for having model Maria Whittaker and Wolf from Gladiators posing as the characters on the box art: mobygames link. Except for the US edition, which had this face smiling up from it instead: another mobygames link. Guess which one apparently got banned by a Canadian wholesaler for being crass and offensive*.

I've got to give them credit, these two characters really do look identical to the people on the game cover. I think I'll go with the guy though, as I wouldn't want to go adventuring without some good solid boots on. Plus his outfit seems less likely to snap if he moves or breathes in.

*The one with the face in case you were wondering.

Insert disk 2 laughing skeleton
Oh shit! What the fuck?

What sort of maniacal developer puts a laughing skeleton on the insert disk screen? In 1988? It's like showing a steam train to cavemen: it's primitive to be be sure, but it'd still scare the living shit out of them! It's especially weird as this guy and his voice clip must take up so much space they're probably half the reason the game even needs a disk two. Here, have a youtube link to see it properly.

Right, okay this looks a fighting game maybe. Fortunately the controls are similar to the other Barbarian II where I have to hold fire and pull the stick in a direction to attack, so I'm already able to fight back.

Though to be honest, fighting back is kind of boring. I can't jump over him or slip past him, so I've just got to be patient.

Then when I killed that guy another one came, then another. Eventually I got the point and decided to make a running jump for it before the next monster turned up.

I knew it, I can just walk across onto another screen!

Of course another monster was waiting for me here and I wasn't good enough to keep him from pushing me all the way back to the first screen, then backwards into the molten lava. Which isn't too healthy for a guy with one bar of health, and no lives.

And that was that, game over.

I mean look at this, once some of these creatures get you, they've got you for good. The enemy's attacks cancel anything I'm doing so struggling is pointless. Maybe next time she should try wearing more metal on her body than she has hanging off her ears.

And look at this asshole grinning at me from the status bar with his ridiculous collar like he's Ming the Merciless. The guy knows I'll never make it past level one and he's loving every minute of it.

Attempt number... I don't know, I've lost count. Probably into the double digits now, but at least now I've finally learned that I can get into these caves in the background. A lot like in the other Barbarian II in fact. I'm surprised I didn't try it earlier really.

The caves just lead to another nearly identical screen though, and the sword on the bottom of the screen is actually a compass to show which way up it is. The game loves to flip the view around between screens even when there's no reason to, so there's been a couple of instances I've walked right off a screen only to find I'm walking back the opposite direction from the left on the next one.

I doubt this level is even possible without a damn good memory, luck, or a map.

So I've started drawing a map up as I go. Every screenshot might look identical, but I'm actually making some progress here.

The bad news is that my barbarian has appeared to have fallen to his death once again, wasting another of his precious lives, and it was my own dumb fault this time. I decided to run away from the monster instead of turning to fight (turning isn't as easy as you'd expect with these controls) and missed the jump when it came up.

But there good news is, I've found a shiny silver shield over there on the right! Might do something good, might do something awesome, won't know until I pick it up.


Oh shit, that cave just looked like any other exit. I had no idea I'd actually made it to the second level. In fact I never expected to make it this far.

And now I'm in a maze of caves. Yep, just like the other Barbarian II game, again. To be fair though, this did come out three years earlier than the other one (though the original Barbarian games came out the same year, so who knows which publisher got to the name first.)

I'm a bit screwed now though, because I didn't realise I was able to walk through that type of gap in the background until a few screens in, so now my map's missing lots of exits.

But then I met this guy, who put all my concerns to rest by munching down on my barbarian's remaining lives. Once he's got a good bite he can take off an entire health bar at once.

Though something strange happened next, something I didn't see coming: the game actually restarted me back at the level 2 entrance. I don't have to replay the entire game! Not so cruel after all it seems.

I looked up about the game afterwards and found that you need to collect several items as you go (shield, potion, orb etc.) and if you don't grab them all along the way, you're fucked. I had actually managed to stumble across them all so far, but it seem easy enough to miss some of them and screw up the game, so I'm deducting points for that. I'm also deducting points for it being slow, annoying, and awkward to control.

But which is better? Well Barbarian II is far slicker and easier to control, and less likely to stunlock me in a corner or push me down a pit. But Barbarian II's checkpoints give me more motivation to keep hacking away at it. And they're about equal in the animated skull and grinning necromancer departments. To be honest I couldn't really recommend either of them as they seem a bit rubbish, but I'm the last person who'd try to talk you out of playing them anyway.

If you've got any opinions about the games, my words, the site, me using too many animated gifs, or just want to say, "Thanks for doing a good job... but you're playing the wrong games", feel free to leave a comment.


  1. I think the first one up there had one more name: "Skeletor: the origin".

  2. Thanks for doing a good job... but you're playing the wrong games :P

    That looked painful.

  3. I absolutely ADORED Barbarian II (the second game here: never heard about the other one), and to be honest I still do. Heck, reading this review made me want to go back and play it. I had the Commodore 64 version, which judging by the screenshots seems identical but of course with simpler graphics.
    To be honest, I was like 8 years old back then and I don't remember if I ever made it past level one. But I still loved it to bits.

    You forgot to mention the most important part, too: BARBARIAN II WAS THE FIRST GAME EVER TO HAVE "FATALITIES". Monsters could do fatalities to you, and you could do those to them too. For example by beheading the monster that looks like a giant featherless chicken.... and he would do that to you too, and the headless barbarian would drop to his knees with blood spurting from his head and then fall down. Take this, Mortal Kombat!!

  4. I remember when I was 6 and I asked my older brother to buy me Barbarian II... and he bought the first one 8(

  5. This is AWESOME!

  6. Funny enough, those are both sequels to different games that were both called "Barbarian" as well. One (the prequel to the first Barbarian II discussed here) was a strange labyrinthine adventure were you only had indirect control over your character by clicking certain icons with your mouse, which was a very... interesting experience. But the game was rather pretty for its time. I had it on my Amiga.

    And the other "first" Barbarian was a one-on-one sword fighting game, which in theory had quite a few different techniques and skill behind it... but in practice, both players usually tried the slow but effective beheading-move, which, when it connected, was an instant kill (and then a goblin came out and kicked the head of the loser around, which cracked me up back then). I had the game on my C64, but as far as I know it was ported to several different platforms.

    I never paid much attention to the fact that the games had the same name but entirely different versions, because that happened all the time in the 80s. I only now realized that they also had different sequels of their own, but you can see which sequel "belongs" to which game...

    You know what? You should do a similar article for both "Barbarian I" games! The fighting on is simple, but pretty fun (unless nostalgia plays a trick on my memory)...


Semi-Random Game Box