Batbarian: Testament Of The Primordials

PC, Switch

I am so deeply in love with Batbarian. Not because it’s a brilliant Metroid-ish platform game, which it is. Not because it has excellent art and animations, which it does. But because it’s a game that wants to be played.

I have spent vast amounts of my two-decade career lamenting how often games just don’t seem to want people to play them. How intriguing projects are rendered accessible only to the very fewest, via ludicrous complexity or gruesome difficulty spikes. Hugely enjoyable games are gated by boss fights only a minority can defeat, shutting off the rest of the fun to everybody else, for reasons I have never, ever been able to reasonably justify. Enter Batbarian: a tough as nails platform-explore-me-do. Unless you would rather it weren’t.

Long and tedious has been the discussion of game difficulty, especially over the last five or so years as brutal challenge has become a championed and widely celebrated by a very loud minority. And while I’m delighted for those who look for such games, who have since been served very well, I have felt sad for those like me who just want to enjoy themselves without developing super-human powers.

So it is that Batbarian’s “Assists” options are something I want to so loudly celebrate. From offering slow-motion aiming for its brilliant throwing mechanic, to doubling the effects of healing, to increasing XP received, to boosting your attack or defence, there are eight different ways to tweaking the game to best suit your desires/abilities. Having played the game with everything off for a long while, I’ve settled on two: slow motion aiming (because it’s cool, more than anything else) an regenerating a minimum amount of health – this just means after a delay I always have one of my hearts refilled, rather than desperately trying to survive on the thinnest sliver of health. And then when I reached the one boss I found far too hard, I turned up the effect of my attacks to get past it and carry on having lots of fun! Oh my goodness, as I say, in love.

But let’s get onto what that fun is. Batbarian is a really splendid take on a Metroidvania, in which you play either a female or male barbarian trapped within a dark, dark dungeon, accompanied by your light-emitting bat friend, Pip. Using thrown fruits, you can direct Pip toward areas of the screen as she enthusiastically chases them to eat. As you play you get other fruits that affect Pip’s behaviour differently. And also stones to throw at switches, that sort of thing.

This is then combined with melee combat, so you might direct Pip to attack a previously invulnerable creature, flipping it and letting you rush in and thwack it to death. Other enemies are vulnerable to light, so directing Pip toward them might weaken them, or destroy them altogether. Then there are the companions you can pick up along the way, such as a wizard or a thief, who have their own attacks you can use, and add a lot of colour, and colourful, commentary.

The game is very funny, the conversations often making me laugh. Everyone involved is enjoyable grumpy, most especially my barbarian, fed up at her being stuck in this ever-growing dungeon. The banter between the enemies is great, too, especially the conversations with trolls and imps.

Combat is solid and fun, and while the throwing items mechanic is not particularly original, it’s well implemented and often very satisfying. Knocking a slime from the ceiling with a rock, so as to attack it before it falls on you, feels great. Flinging a rock with exceptional timing such that a swinging ball on chain knocks it toward an otherwise inaccessible switch feels amazing.

My only complaint as I continue to explore my way through the ever-growing dungeon is a lack of useful reminders about where to progress. It plays out in a very Metroid way, with a colour-coded map showing unexplored exits (or greyed out rooms if you’ve found a scrap of map). But I’ve often found myself in the situation of not knowing which exit I could now access, and having to laboriously reach each of them (thankfully there’s a rest point teleport system) to see if there’s progress to be made. I’d love it if it could be a bit more intuitive.

But my joy that I can tweak the game to suit me overrides so much else. God bless Unspeakable Pixels for this, and please may so many follow.

For those concerned about the recent issues at DANGEN, one of the developers at Unspeakable Pixels has put out this statement.

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