Bardbarian was the debut release from Treefortress Games, a developer founded in October 2012 as a division of Edmonton, Alberta-based interactive media company gskinner. The developer was formed in order to create and deliver gaming content for mobile platforms, which was seen as a favorable market for smaller teams.
As many developers set out to do, Treefortress Games sought to make the kind of game that its members liked to play. One that was popular among the team was a Flash game called Snake Squad, a rather unique action game where the player had to control an increasingly-large group of characters as they dodge and weave through streams of bullets fired by enemies. This game served as the initial inspiration for Bardbarian, but soon elements from tower defense games, beat-em-ups, and even MOBAs were added to the design.
The idea of having a barbarian-turned-bard as the main character of the game came from a desire to subvert typical themes. A bard is not usually a frontline fighter, and the general image of a bard certainly doesn’t call a muscular brute to mind. This odd combination helps set the comical tone of the game almost immediately. While the team sought to betray expectations with its lead character, they put an emphasis on consistency in the visuals. Every element of the game’s graphics is hand-drawn to ensure that things fit together without anything clashing.
The art style of the game was heavily informed by popular TV shows like Adventure Time, while many of the character designs drew on the team’s fondness for classic console games. While Brad’s hulking frame may suggest inspiration from characters like Conan the Barbarian, the primary influence on his design came from Nintendo’s character Link from the Legend of Zelda. On the audio end, the game’s rocking soundtrack was provided by Edmonton band Maximum Satan.
After more than a year in development, Bardbarian was finally ready to release. It was initially released on mobile in January of 2014 through Bulkypix, a major publisher in the mobile market. Reviews for the game were strong, earning accolades from the likes of TouchArcade, Gamezebo, and Pocket Gamer. Response from players was also favorable, with many of them gathering on forums to share strategies for tackling the game’s trickier missions. A home computer version of the game was developed and released in April of 2014, further expanding Bardbarian’s audience.
A few years later, a special premium version of the game was released on mobile, incorporating the modified gameplay balance and added content from the home computer version. This time, the game was published by Treefortress Games itself. It included guest characters from other indie games, including Isaac from The Binding of Isaac, Octodad from the game of the same name, and the war turtle from Shellrazer. All of these improvements and additions were appreciated by mobile players.
Ultimately, Treefortress Games moved on to other projects, with a greater focus on home computer games. This unfortunately meant that the developer could no longer keep up with maintaining Bardbarian, rendering the game incompatible in various ways with modern devices. This unique and humorous hybrid found a new lease on life when it was brought into the GameClub library in March of 2020, freshly updated and ready to play for the latest generation of mobile gamers.