Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior

by Richard Joseph, Shaun Griffiths, Steve Brown
Palace Software
Crash Issue 41, Jun 1987   page(s) 114,115

Producer: Palace Software
Retail Price: £9.99
Author: Steve Brown and Shaun Griffiths

Hardly a month goes by without a fighting game appearing on our review pages. However, amongst all the oriental offerings Palace's latest release takes us into the age of mythology with a beat 'em up featuring great hunky swordsmen, evil guardians and strange man-eating creatures.

The background is straight out of any Boys Own action story, telling of Drax, an evil sorcerer, who's lusting after the beautiful (and very wet) Princess Mariana. Unless she's delivered to him he shall unleash his unspeakable wrath upon the people of the Jewelled City. Drax gives only one alternative - the Jewelled City must offer up a champion to defeat his own.

Champion after champion is defeated and the Jewelled City is losing hope, when, from the forgotten wastelands of the north, comes a mysterious barbarian willing to take on the awesome task. And guess what? That's you.

Barbarian comes in two parts, loading in no particular order. The first is a combat practice routine for one or two players, designed to help you get to grips with the fighting moves and assess the strength of opponents. The second is a Fight to the Death - the real game where the Princess' future is at stake and where you eventually come face to face with Drax himself.

Similar to other beat 'em ups, Barbarian has 16 available moves - eight using the directional keys (these control body movements) and another eight with the directional keys and fire button (this gives the attacking movements). There are four stages, and four increasingly difficult opponents for Barbarian to beat on his way.

As each foe is defeated (literally by knocking his head off), a small lizard-like creature ambles across the screen, kicks the severed head aside and drags the body off to prepare for a feast. Tasty.

On the final screen you have to fight the mighty Drax. He's is no swordsman and launches into battle by hurling bolts of magic; these should be avoided to the best of your ability and a physical attack launched. With Drax defeated, Princess Mariana is saved and shall probably want to marry you for something soppy like that).


Control keys: definable
Joystick: Kempston, Interface 2
Use of colour: brightly designed surround and monochromatic playing area
Graphics: simple backdrops, but large, excellently animated characters
Sound: even 48K sound boasts a great tune
Skill levels: one
Screens: eight stages, plus two-player practice mode

Yeah! Now this is what I call a real slice 'n' dice fight. The graphics are realistic, the backgrounds convincing and (best of all) there's proper movement (like heads coming off) - games this really bring out the animal in me. The program itself is very simple in construction, but it's all brilliantly executed and very addictive. I loved the way the little character comes on at the end of a battle, kicking the loser's head off the screen and pulling the body behind him. Barbarian is easy to escape in, and hard to get from. Worth the asking price, without a doubt.

Make 'em bleeds, beat 'em ups or whatever they're called nowadays... I love 'em, especially when they're as beautifully programmed as this. A few more characters and backgrounds wouldn't have gone amiss, but this still compares well with Palace's other releases. What characters are there are excellently animated and well drawn, and the grounds are also pretty neat. I'd say that this is one of the best beat 'em ups on the Spectrum so far, even if it is a little expensive.

Just as we were thinking that no-one would have the audacity to release another beat 'em up, along comes Palace with Barbarian - and it's remarkably impressive. The package is very professionally put together, with a combat practice game and the actual event both included. The animation is so slick that the characters appear to have a little life of their own as they roll around. One of Barbarian's most pleasing elements is the sense of achievement as an opponent is defeated. Mastering Barbarian will take some time, but well worth it.

Presentation: 81%
Graphics: 89%
Playability: 83%
Addictive Qualities: 86%
Value for Money: 74%
Overall: 85%

Summary: General Rating: Probably the best beat 'em up yet, playable, addictive and worth the steep price.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 19, Jul 1987   page(s) 30


Hhhhiiiiieeeeyyyyyyaaah! Thwak! Aeeieee! Whaddya mean this isn't a karate game? Course it is, Malcolm! Palace is passing this off as the ultimate warrior game, though I have to admit it doesn't look too different to all the other Fist/Ninja games.

Anyway, to the plot. An evil sorceror by the name of Drax is after the fair and lovely Princess Mariana - a buxom young wench if the picture on the inlay card is anything to go by (and she bears an uncanny resemblance to Page 3 lovely Maria Whittaker). Drax is planning to do unspeakable nasties to the Jewelled City if he isn't allowed his wicked way! However, since this is a game, and there'd be little point in you forking out a tenner unless you reckoned you could do something. Drax has agreed that if you can beat his guards then the Princess can go free.

So off you go, wielding your broadsword, fighting your way through several levels of demonic guardians before you thing - a fight all the way finally come face to face with Drax himself. In two player ()tax himself. Mind you, before you get this far, you'll have the opportunity to practise your combat skills if you load up side one of the tape. You have the option of one or two player mode, and you'll have a chance to get to grips with the extremely complicated moves you'll need to master if you're going to get anywhere.

Side two contains the real thing - a fight all the way through to Drax. In two player mode there's a time limit of one minute to bash the living daylights out of each other, while in one player mode it's a fight to the death on every level. Once you've battled your way through to Drax, you wipe him out, the Princess is free, and, no doubt, falls gratefully into your big, butch arms...

Barbarian's an okay game, two but it does rather chug along, and it looks very similar to some of last year's Ninjary-type games. Not bad if you like this sort of thing, though to my mind grappling with the Princess Mariana of inlay card (and Page 3) fame could be a smidgin more risky than facing any of Drax's demonic guardians.

Graphics: 8/10
Playability: 6/10
Value For Money: 6/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Overall: 7/10

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Crash Issue 45, Oct 1987   page(s) 38,39


There's been an explosion in martial-arts sims since The Way Of The Exploding Fist, as RICKY EDDY and ROBIN CANDY observe in this good beat-'em-up guide. And the ninjas just won't lie down - all they want to do is...

They started three years ago, when Bug Byte revealed an interesting little number called Kung Fu. It was an admirable wireframe attempt to produce a martial-arts simulation - 'probably the most unusual game to be seen on the Spectrum for a long while,' said CRASH in amazement.

But sceptics thought the genre would never catch on. It took Melbourne House to show them the way - The Way Of The Exploding Fist, which sold more than 150,000 copies for the Spectrum and nearly half a million across all formats.

Since then, nothing's kept the combat games down. They've been grotesque (Barbarian), skillful (Fist) and downright silly (Ninja Hamster).

The genre soon caught the nickname 'beat-'em-ups', as the gameplay always involves a player beating up his opponent, whether the computer or another player.

And with the advent of the 128s and their improved sound chips, the fighting effects became more hideous - the most disturbing beat-'em-up sounds must be the animal squeals on Ninja Hamster.

But most of these martial-arts simulations are so unrealistic, set in pseudo-Oriental fantasy worlds, that it's just harmless surrogate violence - and everyone likes a bit of that.


85% Issue 41

RICKY: Scream! Maria Whittiker! Pornography!! There was a great moral outrage over the luscious lady who advertised this Gothic horror beat-'em-up - and over the notorious CRASH cover.

Fight your way through screens of beautifully animated bashing action to release Princess Marina from the evil Drax...

When you knock off an opponent in Barbarian, a deformed lizard creature trundles the body away. Little touches like this make the game worthwhile, though experts may find it a bit simple. Still, Barbarian is one of my top combat games; Fist is wearing a bit thin these days.

Now programmer Steve Brown is developing Barbarian II...

ROBIN: Barbarian is one of the best beat-'em-up's I've played. Most of the graphics are monochromatic, but this enhances the game rather than detracting from the super-smooth animation.

It's instantly playable, and for such a simple idea it's surprisingly addictive. The two-player game is one of the best features of Barbarian - you can invite your friends round for a slice 'n' dice party. So if you want nothing more than a straightforward brutal fighting game, this is the one to get.

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Overall (Robin Candy): 85%
Overall (Richard Eddy): 90%

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 53, May 1990   page(s) 29



Beat-'em-ups, eh? They've been oodles of them gracing the Speccy over the years, haven't there? So many in fact that it's easy-peasy to get your Exploding Fists mixed up with your International Karates, and end up with absolutely no idea where you are. But not any more, 'cos here's Jonathan Davies with the Your Sinclair Definitive Guide To Beat-'Em-Ups!! Hurrah! (Or should that be "Hai-arrgh!"?)

Before we start, let's get one thing straight - beat-'em-ups are not boring, and if you think they are then you've got it all wrong. On the contrary, they're jolly interesting. And, rather than all being exactly the same, they're highly individual affairs, each with their own subtleties and nuances. To assume otherwise exhibits a total ignorance of the creativity and skill that go into making what has become one of the stalwarts of the computer games industry.

So what constitutes a 'beat-'em-up'? Obviously, the beating up of one or more characters is an essential part of the gameplay. Whether this is done with one's hands or a weapon depends on the game. Purists tend to frown upon the use of shurikens, big sticks and other instruments, but it's a sad fact that in these days you're unlikely to rescue your princess without some sort of mechanical assistance. The setting is also important. The summit of Mount Yukahomo is ideal or perhaps the imperial palace of the Dragon master, but an oriental atmosphere is a definite must.

In its traditional form the beat-'em-up takes place on a single screen, with your opponents tackling you one at a time. Variations, however, include the scrolling beat-'em-up (with the bonus of tackling two or more adversaries at once) and the full scale flip-screen, multi-level version with add-on weapons, puzzles to solve and an embossment of up to three initials.

Whichever incarnation it appears in, a beat-'em-up is not to be taken lightly. A sharp eye, lightning reflexes and an elephantine memory (for learning all those moves) are needed, along with the finest joystick available.


"That's easy," you exclaim. "Way Of The Exploding Fist!" But you'd be wrong. The first ever beat-'em-up, the father of them all, the seed from which all future offerings stemmed forth, and of which al the others are but pale imitations, was none other than Kung Fu, from a long-forgotten label called Bug-Byte.

A very primitive construction, it had all the ingredients of the real thing (including tinkly music). Reviewed in ish 11 of Your Spectrum, it scored 3/5 (times where hard). The rest, as they say, is, erm... oh, well you know.


Now we're talking. Although there isn't a single kimono or droopy moustache in sight, and swords rather than hands are used for carving people up, Barbarian is easily the most agonisingly painful game ever released. There's bloody literally everywhere, with continuous slaughter the order of the day.

Some of the most memorable moves in beat-'em-up history are featured in Barbarian. Not to be missed is the now-legendary spin-round-and-chop-his-head-off manoeuvre, but the head-butt shouldn't be overlooked, and nor should the sly poke-in-the-eye.

There are plenty of gimmicks too. Like the little bloke who comes on after each game to remove corpses and severed body parts. And the little shrug your warrior gives you when you ignore him for too long.

Yes, Barbarian is one of my faves. All it lacks is that essential oriental atmosphere. You could always go for a take-away afterwards of course.

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Inscrutability: 7%
Wince Factor: 96%
Versatitlity: 91%
Eastern Promise: 93%
Overall: 91%

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 63, Jun 1987   page(s) 24,25

Label: Palace
Author: Steve Brown and Shaun Griffiths
Price: £8.95
Joystick: Sinclair/Kempston
Reviewer: Jim Douglas

Long, long ago in a time of great darkness, a genre of computer game emerged from the bubbling swamp that was like no other.

It was a proud kind of game. It was unrefined, inelegant and some said it was a bad kind of game. It was the sort of game which encouraged violence in young innocent computer owners, we were told.

It was known by many names - The Martial Arts Game, The Kicky-Kicky Game, The Combat Game. Opinion was divided. People either loved them or hated them. But they never went away.

Now here comes Barbarian, new from Palace.

Following very closely in the footsteps of Fist II (the sequel to Melbourne House's ground-breaking Way of the Exploding Fist - the most famous of the genre, Barbarian is easily the best straightforward fighting game to date.

Being based entirely on a broadsword fight Barbarian has been saddled with the inevitably unimaginative storyline of Girl being captured by Evil Madman and having to be won back by Muscular Hero. But when you actually get down to the game, having ignored the genuinely dreadful packaging 'concept' (Maria Whittaker in too-small bikini looking pensive alongside a large muscular bloke with a large sword) the game is very good indeed.

If you kind of imagine Way of the Exploding Fist with swords, you've got the idea behind Barbarian.

The game has a slightly different play method on each side of the tape. Side 1 offers combat practice, allowing you to play against either a friend or the computer, learning moves and facing gradually tougher opponents. Side 2 is the big event - you must fight through ever more intelligent swordsmen before your final confrontation with Drax.

The graphics are great. Your figures are just like cartoon characters and they run and jump and roll around the screen at your command. Some appropriately gruesome moves are available after a bit of working out - Neck Chop, Flying Neck Chop and Head Butt can all be inflicted upon your opponent once you've got yourself in the right position. Obviously, a large proportion of the swordfight involves blocking your opponent's moves. Rolling, crouching and parrying and similar actions are achieved by making similar similar movements with the joystick as if your were attacking, except you leave the Fire button undepressed. One wonderful feature is you can join moves together by selecting them one after another - you can roll, spring out and chop his head off - all in one move.

A successful blow landed on your opponent will be rewarded by a little red flash and a weakening of his constitution. When either warrior's constitution is down to zero (or thereabouts) he will be reduced to a semi-kneeling position, from which the final move should be simply kick him over.

The most satisfying manoeuvre available is the Flying Neck Chop which, if complete, results in the head of the receiver being lopped off and flying through the air. After it stops rolling around, a small gremlin type creature will walk on from the left-hand side of the screen and kick the head before dragging away the rest of the corpse.

As you progress and defeat increasingly tough opponents, the background scenes will cycle through woodland glades, arenas and courtyards. Bearing in mind the restrictions imposed by wishing to avoid attribute problems, the look of the game is very slick.

While essentially being very simple - two people fighting with swords. Barbarian is fast enough to be genuinely exciting to play. Your opponents turn out to be pretty intelligently programmed too.

You'll soon be anticipating the moves of the other warrier, trying to respond. Buy it!

Overall: 5/5

Summary: Top quality combat program meets ropey fantasy plot with surprisingly pleasing results. An essential purchase.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Crash Issue Annual 2018   page(s) 57

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Transcript by Chris Bourne

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