Life as a triumphant adventurer was a happy one for Hegor. After the victory over his evil brother Necron, avenging the murder of his father, he was in line for the throne.
The nation's elders were a tad concerned about this possibility - after all, finding a decent mixture of brains and brawn these days is difficult, one generally comes without the other and, well, hegor was best known for his brawn. Not exactly royal material, therefore, the elders paid him off with a skip-load of gold and sent him away to get smashed for the next few months. He spent the time drinking a lot and boring the inhabitants of the nation's taverns with tales of how he defeated Necron.
But life as an ex-triumphant adventurer was not quite so happy. When some gossipy amazon ruined Hegor's reputation by telling him that Necron had been resurrected, things had to be done. How could Hegor blag a pint or two of mead in the evenings if his story had been discredited? How could he hold his face up in public again? How could he get free silk underpants from the girl in 'Ye Olde Sockke Shoppe' if he couldn't fancy him anymore? He knew what to do. he to get kitted out, tooled up and throw in his gauntlet - Necron must be defeated.
It is up to you to control Hegor through the six domains of this game. It starts in the forest as Hegor tries to defeat werewolves, Neanderthals and orgres, then progresses through the caves under the village, through the village itself, into the castle, down into the dungeon, then finally into Necron's temple.
The problem is that Hegor begins with no weapons whatsoever, meaning that the first forest involves him bashing as many people as possible with his bare hands so that he can get together enough gold and stuff to make himself slightly harder.
The screen layout of the forest is a little weird and takes some getting used to. Imagine it as a maze made up of a number of interlinked paths at right angles to each other. The path you are currently on is displayed from the side so that you can clearly see the action as you roll and punch your way to freedom, with the connecting paths going into or coming out of the screen. Initially, as you move on to another path, it is a little disorientating - trying to re-establish which you are facing and so on - but a compass and habit of mapping paper will see you right.
The gameplay on this level is very simple. Basically, just avoiding being killed by some very thick adversaries. But as you progress through the levels the game expands into more than just a beat-'em-up, requiring you to solve puzzles to find secret doors and reveal traps. For example, in the castle you are required to pull chains, but not to flush out the bad guys. Usually they will be in a group of three which must be pulled in the right order to open the door to the next room. Something else to watch out for are hidden floor panels which will often counteract the effect of the chains you have just pulled, frequently sending you to oblivion.
As you move into the dungeon you realise that the enemies are beginning to get a lot harder. For the first time you will come face to face with the undead, They can be knocked down for a while but they are completely unkillable, the point being that they are already dead. You really have to work fast on those switches with these attractively dressed chaps around.
Hegor, once he has collected them, can use different items to help him with his quest. On top of all the usual axes, potions and weapons there are things like grappling hooks, which can be used to hoist you out of tricky situations. Naturally there will be the odd shop around the place, usually in the most bizarre of locations, but only if you've remembered to collect all the gold you can will they be of any use to you.
Graphically the backgrounds are well up to standard, particularly in the latter dungeon and temple levels. The sprites usually disintegrate and bleed in a comic book gore kind of way, and that comic book feel is most clearly demonstrated by Hegor himself, looking like something straight from the pages of the Beano as he rolls and tumbles his way about.
A typical Psygnosis tune is in evidence, very reminiscent of castles and dungeons and heroes and stuff. The effects, though not brilliant, are just tough enough to make you think that enemies probably do actually hurt you.
All told, it adds up to a very playable package continuing in the hallowed tradition of the original Barbarian, and goes a little beyond the traditional beat-'em-up gameplay to provide extra depth. Coupled with the difficulty level it makes it quite a challenge. Pretty damn good.