Bardbarian: Defense that Rocks
Bardbarian is a highly chaotic game, but it revels in that chaos. You need to protect your town’s crystal from incoming waves of attackers, a standard element of castle defense games. You have full control of your character and can move him around a wide area, something you’ll need to do as the incoming enemies tend to fire a healthy amount of bullets at you. So is it a top-down shooter, then? But the hero isn’t really strong enough to fend off enemies on his own, so he has to summon a variety of characters to support him. Each of those characters has its own attack style, functioning like a power-up in a shoot-em-up. You’ll also level up and expand your team’s abilities as you go, making it a bit like an RPG.
The feels like it’s dancing on the edge of being too complicated for its own good, but it somehow comes together into something special. It grabs you right from the beginning with its humorous opening cinematic, setting the story for why a barbarian like protagonist Brad would put down one type of axe and pick up another more musical one. Things start off simple enough, with few enemies and allies to cope with. Things ramp up rather quickly, and before you know it you’ll be dodging, summoning, and firing off special magical songs at rapid speed. Keeping up with the game’s pace can be tough, but the pumping soundtrack sets the tempo nicely.
Interestingly, the bulk of the game takes place during a single day. That day is broken up into a large number of smaller slices, allowing you to take a breather and spend some of the treasure you’ve picked up before heading out on the next leg. It also gives you a number of convenient continue points. That’s a good thing, as the game can get quite difficult as you go along. You won’t ever be set back terribly far if you are defeated in a particular wave, and that outcome is something you’ll probably run into fairly often. It’s crucial to spend the cash you earn wisely, as it won’t be pretty if your units fall behind in their development.
Like in any RPG, however, you can always go back and do extra battles in order to overcome any challenges you can’t immediately handle. Thanks to its action components, battling bad guys for extra gold never feels like a chore. There’s a certain arcade-style quality to Bardbarian that makes the moment-to-moment gameplay extremely compelling. The castle defense aspects make the game feel good in longer sessions, and the RPG elements keep you engaged even while you’re not playing. Put all of that together and wrap it up in a genuinely charming, humorous presentation, and you’ve got a recipe for a winner. Bardbarian’s waves may overtake you at times, but learning to ride them never gets old.