Bardbarian: Protect Your Town With Heavy Metal Solos!
This review was posted on the PMS Clan in April, 2014.
Meet Brad: a barbarian-turned-bard who shreds heavy metal licks on an axe-lute just because he was tired of grinding experience points and saving useless NPCs on adventures. Laying down his tools of bloodshed, he vows to protect his town crystal by making others do his bidding, all the while cheering them on in song.
Bardbarian, developed by indie company Tree Fortress, is a bullet hell castle defense game for Apple and Android products. There are three play modes: campaign, endless, and survival. I will focus my review on the campaign, since one can only go so far in endless mode and survival mode is…well, don’t die.
In the campaign, the player must move Brad around the screen to both avoid enemies and allow party members to attack since the mechanics are based on hit and run tactics. Brad can’t do much by himself. As typical of Bards, he’s nothing without his songs and entourage of magicians, warriors, and ranged supports.
Brad can rock out on his axe-lute to summon or buff the team. Notes are the mana equivalent for playing solos. They accumulate over time, with production speeding up when Brad holds still to concentrate on his music. A good riff can raise attack, speed, or defense. After hitting five enemies in a row without suffering damage, Brad can use his ultimate attack to block all incoming damage and freeze enemies – an invaluable tool against bosses and hordes.
The campaign begins with a snarky tutorial from a learned goblin who teaches the player how to kill his brethren, strangely enough. Goblins are accompanied by all sorts of orc and troll-kin; some race blindly for the town’s vulnerable crystal while others charge for Brad.
My ideal team consists of red-haired brawlers who pack a fire punch, kind of like how I virtually see myself. If one of them dies, I’ll add a healer into the mix when I need her. My first two upgrades consisted of asking the town drunk to slow down goblins with vomit and purchasing a ratcoon to fetch my gold. Next, I maxed out my melee ginger squadron and body spray, so I can smell so good that my men want to stick closer to me. The town upgrades were fun though it took some time before any sentries were placed in their pre-assigned towers near the crystal.
There are several inexpensive micro transactions that hasten gold retrieval which can speed up the grinding process. However, the game is structured so that by each game over, the player will be able to make the next experience easier by upgrading Brad, other party members, or the town itself. Other than my initial purchase of the game ($0.99), I’ve spent nothing and still have fun because there’s a sense of accomplishment after every wave. It has a sort of Binding of Isaac feel where I don’t mind playing the same level again if it means I have a new upgrade.
The cartoonish, colorful and bouncy 2-D characters stand out on my small iPhone 4s screen. Sometimes, however, this was not enough to compensate for the controls. In the later stages when enemies and missiles are rampant, this became difficult to deal with, often finding out that a legion of goblins have managed to hide underneath my thumb. After fiddling with the game for some time, I discovered there was an “invisible” d-pad on the top-right of the screen that freed up some space. Though I still preferred using my thumbs due to comfort, even if it sometimes impaired my vision. Bardbarian is fun to play via phone but would be better suited on a tablet.
The look of the game reminded me of Giants and Dwarves which features a buff blond hero surrounded by disposable adventurers. The game’s premise of a passive protagonist, however, is completely new to me, and made my party seem less expendable as I depended solely on them and running for survival.
Can Brad battle through 21 waves of enemies to save his town? Or will the crystal be taken by the rampaging hordes as our heavy metal hero lies fallen on the battlefield? This is a game you will find yourself playing for hours and not even realize it. Here’s hoping to Bardbarian 2!