T he perfect example of a game which you ought to "try before you buy" is Barbarian. Programmed by Psygnosis (the company responsible for the dreadful Brattacus and the quite good Deep Space). At first glance it looks irresistible, but as you delve further in, its flaws become very conspicuous.
Naturally you kick off with a loading screen, and what a screen it is. Even including the excellent recent American imports, this is one of the most impressive start screens I have ever seen, with full-size animated picture of Hegor wielding an axe.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game's graphics and animation do not quite live up to the beginning sequence. The thing that will surprise you is the over-complicated method of control. Obviously afraid that not using the Amiga's WIMP environment would be a cardinal sin, the programming team have made the mouse usable only for icon selection, with the player having to move using either a joystick or keyboard. There are icons for forward, back, left and right, they make tight spots impossible!
As with most platform/ladder games (of which this is one – even if very glorified) the only way to succeed is to play the game and gradually discover the tricks and pitfalls as you go along; for instance, there are various disappearing floors which no could anticipate until you have been there once.
Graphically the game is good but by no means briljant. The characters are well defined, but the accuracy and animation leaves a great deal to be desired. Hegor frequently appears to be floating up staircases, rather than walking, and the fighting mvoements are just too jerky.
All these minor criticisms could be ignored but for one thing, the scrolling. Unlike most platform games, even on the 64, Barbarian uses flick scrolling, rather than pixel. This means that each time Hegor gets to the end of the screen, everything stops while the screen is swapped (annoyingly slow) for a new one. On a ZX81 this could be understood, but on the Amiga it is unforgivable. Being an honest and fair reviewer (oh yeah – Ed), however, I put this criticism to one side and started to play the game. Surprisingly, or so I thought at the time, I managed to get slightly hoked, and realised the game was actually quite playable.
Throughout the game there are various baddies, Necrons, who you must dispose of with various weapons. You only have a sword at the start and only as you get further into the game will you be able to collect the arrows that enable you to get past about 10%.
Barbarian is a game with major flaws that, if you can be bothered to make the effort required, can be quite rewarding. The question to ask is whether, for the substantial amount of money these games cost, anyone should have to put up with sloppy programming?
CU Amiga, August 1987, p.75