The Secret of Steel
A certain governor once made a certain movie about a certain barbarian. This movie, aside from teaching us that you should always be nice to your slave boys because they grow up to carry out angsty vendettas, was generally responsible for portraying the barbarian as a misunderstood, noble, justice-seeking hero. Which is boring. Fortunately, Barbarian Onslaught: The Secret of Steel, the latest side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure, is here to kick in your door, throw some exploding barrels at you, eat some ribs it found in a crate, and then dismember you in a variety of ways. You're a barbarian now, baby! And it is going to be awesome.
The game is played with either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys for movement — whichever you prefer. The meat of the mechanics, however, lies in the all-powerful [spacebar]. Tapping it once is a "quick attack", a brief, weak sword slice. Hold down the bar and you'll execute a more powerful strike. And that's just the beginning. You can pause the game at any time by hitting [P] and read the encyclopedia with [E], which explains in detail how to execute all the moves. It's something you'll usually end up falling back on, since the in-game instructions are visual aides and are often maddeningly vague.
Once you do figure out what you're doing, however, Barbarian Onslaught becomes pure glorious fun. You can knock down enemies below you with a boot to the face and then impale them for an instant kill. You can pick up an enemy and headbutt them repeatedly or toss them off a cliff. It's one of those things you know you probably shouldn't enjoy so much, but you can't help it. Eeeeeeee, lookit his wittle head bounce on the ground!
Easily one of the biggest things the game has going for it is it's style, hand-drawn by Johan Hjärpe. The style is cartoonish enough that the violence isn't overwhelming as it might be with more realistic graphics. Skulls, spleens, and other organs bounce across the landscape after particularly vigorous swings of your sword. Special attention is paid to the death throes of your enemies, of course, who stagger about convincingly after you do the unspeakable to them. All of it is encompassed by a sweeping, fantastic soundtrack that's just the cherry on top.
Analysis: Barbarian Onslaught is not really my type of game ordinarily, but there's just something about it's amazing style and over-the-top cartoony gore that is just plain fun, and manages to keep being so despite the game's flaws.
The [spacebar] is the be-all, end-all of your arsenal. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Being a proud, ham-fisted button masher I was able to make my way through the game without much finesse and a whole lot of body parts. Whenever I wanted to pull off one of the other moves, things got trickier, and often frustrating. The game seems to have trouble recognising whether you want it to preform that simple universal slice-and-dice, or say, grab your foe and headbutt their face into tomato paste. Even just one or two more keys would have made a world of difference.
Despite having a respectable number of levels, Barbarian Onslaught is actually pretty short. Most of the levels are extremely straight-forward and can be bulldozed through in a matter of minutes. In the long run, this winds up being a mark in it's favour. As fun as the game is, ultimately it does wind up getting pretty repetitive the farther you go. It still has a lot of value as a spectacle, and a darned entertaining one, but with no achievements to strive for or new weapons to find, it doesn't offer a lot of replay value.
Barbarian Onslaught isn't exactly a thinking man's game. But that's okay, because there are times when this game's wild exuberance just fits. You know what? Some days you want to solve complex puzzles built on sophisticated physics engines. Other days you want to find the sort of people who design those games, give them a wedgie, and drive wheelies in a parking lot blaring obnoxious hip-hop from your speakers. On those days? Barbarian Onslaught is there for you. HIGH FIVE, BRAH, THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME!