Review: Barbearian – Other Things Bears Do In The Woods

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So this bear walks into a bar…

No, not really. Sorry, it was there, I had to use it.

Kimmo Lahtinen knows his way around a twin-stick shooter – 13 years at studio Housemarque is ample evidence of that. Resogun was the first game to grace my PS4’s hard drive, not long after Sony’s shiny new box went on sale in 2013. Five years later, it’s still on my hard drive; it’s the perfect pick-up-and-play game to accompany a Summer beer and I can’t bring myself to delete it.

The Apocalypse Edition of Dead Nation is another great example of Housemarque at the top of its game, while Outland took the studio’s twin-stick know-how and applied it in fascinating ways to the 2D platform genre.

Since Lahtinen struck out on his own under the guise of Gimblll, he has released Drift’n’Drive, and Trigonarium (another twin-shooter also available for Apple TV), but as he himself admits on his site, Barbearian is easily his most ambitious solo project.

After posting some very positive early impressions, I’ve since spent a lot more quality time in the bear suit, and I can easily say that Barbearian is up there as one of the most enjoyable titles I’ve played this year, on any platform.

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Barbearian is rich with ideas and feels like a complete little world unto itself. The self-contained maps for each hub section or level help to create this insular universe. Each map is finite, with edges you can’t go beyond, yet each feels so detailed.

The view is pulled back quite far to an isometric bird’s eye, causing characters and minions to feel small on the screen, but this helps to create a sense of distance and space within the 2D planes.

After learning the mechanics and being introduced to a conspiratorial mystery surrounding your place in this universe, you’ll eventually unlock a larger world, connected by red buttons which act as portals. Hubs contain shops to spend your coinage on bigger and badder weaponry, upgrading your health and spirit energy (to summon more minions), and upgrading your ever-growing army of rescued prisoners, converting them into either knights or archers to fight by your side. Trust me, you’ll need some of each.

Speaking of coinage, Barbeaian is a premium game with no IAPs, so any currency you collect is all part of the in-game progression. Sweet.

The A-button of your compatible controller is your standard Hack’n’slash button-masher, while hitting B will execute a dash-charge that has a cool-down timer. X will activate any heavy secondary weapon you’ve picked up during a level, with some kick-ass options to discover. The first is a machine gun which acts in a very typical twin-stick shooter kind of way. Other heavy weapons deploy interesting mechanics such as a Void that attracts enemies away from you.

Waves of enemy minions with differing attack styles will cause you to think beyond pure mashing. Players will need to employ disciplined use of the dash-charge and learn to use the various heavy weapons to get the most out of them, because Barbearian gets tough. As stated on Gimblll’s site, this is not for the easily discouraged.

To help get your head around using the various weapons, there is a wonderful addition that unlocks after some progression – a world comprised of Masterclass levels. Within these levels your standard attack and dash are disabled, and all that’s available is one particular heavy weapon, giving you an opportunity to master it within a bespoke level-design. These levels are tough but crazy fun.

Speaking of tough, the end of each set of levels will of course take you to a boss fight. These bosses are huge, and again have differing attack patterns that are susceptible to the right kind of fighting style and weapon. Try and try again.

There’s so much going on in Barbearian to appreciate. The terrain can be used to funnel enemies and bottleneck them, making them easier to mow down, although it can also work against you if you find yourself trapped in a corner and having to fight your way out. Towers will lob explosives at you or continue to spawn more enemies until they’re destroyed. And of course no hack’n’slash game would be complete without loot chests.

The electronic tunes behind the gameplay are courtesy of Tommi Lahtinen, and like the rest of the game, are of equally high quality.

The more I write about Barbearian the more I work want to jump back into its self-contained environments and interconnected goodness, it’s all very more-ish.

For those with an Apple TV and a compatible controller looking for quality titles to add to their library, Barbearian is simply a must-have game for the platform.

In A Nutshell:

Combining hack’n’slash, looting, twin-stick shooting, and a Matrix-like mystery to get to the bottom of, Gimblll’s Barbearian is a must-have title on the Apple TV platform.

If you’re new to The Apple TV Gaming Blog (ATVG), or just new to Apple TV gaming in general, or both, then the best place to get acquainted is our Best Apple TV Games Of 2017 article. You’ll find a great collection of games to play, and a bunch of useful links to our previous site content. Enjoy. 

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