Have you’ve ever given some thought about the meaning and the origin of the word berserker? In the case you haven’t, here’s the short version: Berserkers were ferocious Viking warriors who fought without any armor, wreaking havoc among their unlucky adversaries thanks to their savage might, brutish appearance and nigh animalistic attacks, clad only in bearskins – hence the name berserkers. Some claim that they were also rather partial to consuming a special sort of hallucinogenic mushroom for the added kick in the battle, which made them foaming on the mouth as if they had rabies and gave them their trademark berserk appearance. There are many accounts dedicated to their insanely brave deeds on the field of battle, but you don’t have just to read about them like some modern-day softy. If you have a PC or iPhone, and thanks to Kimmo Lahtinen, an independent Finnish developer (OK, not really of Viking descent, but close enough), you’ll have the rare opportunity to take control of a perfect specimen of this old barbaric kind, complete with a deadly sharp axe, freshly skinned bear hide and a vicious attitude.
Naturally, a game with a protagonist such as this can’t be anything else than a full-blooded, frenzied, hack and slash brawler, with swarms of enemies just waiting to feast on your still warm corpse like carrion crows after a battle. The problem arises when we try to explain how an ordinary earthbound Viking berserker ended up in the situation to face all those skeletons, giant spiders and other far-out opponents. It seems that the author of the game also liberally smoked some of those famous hallucinogenic Viking mushrooms because its story is clearly tinted with an irresistible whiff of inter-dimensional psychedelia. The game starts as you’re literally being sucked through some sort of wormhole, into a strange world presided by beings of almost indescribable appearance (imagine a living crystal totem with red wings and feathers, medieval coif cape and a bulging eyeball for a head and you’ll get the pretty good idea) who call themselves Arbitrators. Now, although our hero thankfully wasn’t subjected to the supreme humiliation of alien probing (like your average extraterrestrials of the common gray variety would doubtlessly do), he’ll be forced to participate in something even more devious and unpleasant – a full-blown, experiment with the ultimate goal of determining whether our species is worthy of being left alive or the Arbitrators should wipe us from the face of the Earth. Since you’re clearly a representative sample of your species, you’ll have to successfully pass a series of trials (skillfully supervised by an interstellar duck called Professor Vogelstrom!), meaning that you should carve your way through hordes of enemies without showing them any mercy. Perform well, and we’ll be saved, flounder even for a bit, and you’ll doom us all.
As might be expected, as any self-respecting berserker would do, the only way our hero can interact with his surroundings is through extreme violence, so, even if you want to talk to someone, you’ll initiate a conversation by smashing that person over his noggin. In PC version, besides arrow keys for direction and movement, the only two actions are attack and charge button (in iOS version things aren’t much more complicated, with floating joystick for movement and couple of virtual buttons). The basic attack will make a decent enough damage, making a small-scale carnage through ranks of lesser enemies. However, if you want to pack more punch you can use charge attack which will mow through your foes like a warm knife through butter. However, things won’t be so easy if you run into a boss enemy. Generally, you’ll recognize them by their size: they are at least a couple of heads, or (since skeletons will make the bulk of your adversaries) skulls, taller than mere grunts. They are considerably stronger than other enemies, which you’ll doubtlessly feel yourself after just a few punches, so each of them will require at least a little bit of tactical approach. For instance, a big skeleton legionary will hold his sword in raised position a few moments before an attack, so you’ll know when it’s time to take flight. Take notice that after you take down all bosses on the level, a vortex will materialize, so you’ll have just a small amount of time to pick up all the loot or do whatever else is necessary before you’re rudely sucked in and transported to next stage.
Besides different kinds of enemies, you’ll also run into various static offensive structures, such as creatively designed turrets, that will shower you with their missiles if you don’t take some time to destroy them. Of course, all this can be a bit overwhelming even for a berserker of your stature. That’s why you’ll be able to recruit some help and assemble your own small army of followers. On your wild skirmishes through this vicious alien gauntlet, you’ll encounter greenish tubes – smash them and you’ll free some of your less fortunate predecessors who weren’t strong enough to complete these challenges. Although they usually don’t last too much, they will support you at least for some time. In the case you want to make them a bit efficient, you can upgrade them with different equipment. Also, pay attention to various kinds of fruits that will remain behind vanquished enemies or destroyed objects, since you’ll be able to use it as a currency to purchase better and more fatal types of weapons, from simple machine gun to awesome gravity gun. You can even use it for bribery if you fail to pass the test. Instead of being processed and shamefully pickled in a tube of your own, you can choose to give 30% of your loot to a strange alien creature to turn a blind eye and return you to the battlefield.
All this sounds straightforward enough, but it’s only like that in theory. Barbearian will give you much more than you’ve initially expected. First of all, the game is huge, with over 100 levels, so it will keep you occupied for quite some time, with ever-increasing difficulty and challenges. True, it’s mostly focused on pure, mind-numbing carnage, but you’ll still have ample opportunities to exercise the strongest muscle in your body – and that’s your brain. Of course, the bizarre concept and wacky atmosphere leave perhaps the strongest impression. Pared with glitzy cartoonish graphics and an upbeat soundtrack that seem like it’s conjured directly from some early nineties arcade, you’ll feel like you’re playing some psychedelic space acid trip concerning berserkers, alien abductors, interdimensional portals and strange experiments. In a word, Barbearian is a must for all who like great hack and slash action combined with a peculiar indie sensibility.