Barbarian 2 (Psygnosis) logo

PSYGNOSIS * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick/keyboard * Out now

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.

Barbarian 2 (Psygnosis) logo

Hegor's back for more. After he successfully did away with Necron, his evil brother, he comfortably settled down to a hero's existence of endless free beers down the pub, cheap plumbing and the occasional guest appearances on TV game shows (or whatever the barbarian's equivalent to that may be). But one fateful day the previously reliable "Hey babe, I'm a superhero, I killed Necron and I could have been king." line failed to work on a girl. Evidently, Necron's evil minions have resurrected their master's body, and evil once more stalks the land. No-one likes a hero who leaves a job half-finished, so before you could say 'loincloth' the free beer dried up, his regular slot on TV's Chicks 'n' Choppers was given to 'Miss Damsel In Distress 670 BC' and he couldn't find a plumber for love nor money.

Hi ho, hi ho it's off to the forest Hegor goes
This made Hegor very angry, so without even bothering to pack his smalls (or even put a winter coat on) he set off into the dark forest once more hot on the trail of his sworn enemy. This is where you join in the proceedings, as Hegor appears on a woodland path somewhere in level one - the Forest. There are five other levels of action to explore and conquer, adding up to a BIG adventure.

Hegor can run either left or right along paths, with openings to adjoining paths, caves or buildings displayed in the foreground and background. The game immediately bears its teeth, as our hero's first taste of action soon swaggers onto the screen. Baddies take numerous forms, relying on numbers as opposed to 'ardness to wear down our man's energy reserves. Kill a baddie, and it'll drop a bottle of potion. These can be collected to enhance either your own stamina or the strength of any weapons you may have collected.

There are numerous armourments at Hegor's disposal (including swords, axes, crossbows and grappling hooks), but first he must find them - not easy. The game soon settles into its stride, basically a collect-em-up set over a large area with baddies and traps to negotiate as you go. It's all fairly basic, but the action is fast (checked only by a small lag-time when Hegor takes a turn-off at a junction) and the beat-em-up sequences are well-animated and require a fair amount of skill. Hegor has a wide range of combat moves at his disposal, and there are definite techniques to be learned for dealing with particular baddies.

Interspersed throughout the game are opportunities to spend some of the cash you may have collected. Villages provide all sorts of goodies - not least the chance to gossip with a local, often yielding useful information.

there's a save game option enabling you to restart at higher levels (very useful, this is a big game) and a whole world of friendly (and not so friendly) people to meet.

Loincloths and bulging muscles
Barbarian II comes billed by Psygnosis as the 'ultimate in loincloth entertainment'. And even though this could be disputed by the big and bulging Chppendales, Adonis, et al - it does give you some indication as to merest tinge of black humour you'll discover injected into this massive arcade adventure. If Hegor runs into a wall, he hurts his head - logical, accurate, but the first time I've ever seen it happen in this type of game.

The graphics are fairly basic, but everything moves smoothly across the screen - and it's especially good to see the beat-em-up element handled so well. All too often, games that encompass elements of fighting tend to fudge it - the action is usually far too brawlish requiring only an auto-fire button to see you through the next levels - but Barbarian II has none of this. In fact the only real criticism is that the game is a little dated and rather basic, considering what is available currently on the market. But there's a big, slickly presented challenge here that fans of the original, or of the genre in general, will enjoy.

In a bid to add greater gameplay to the sideways-scrolling beat- and shoot-em-ups, adventure overtones are often used. This involves players collecting specific objects and then using them in another area. This can take the form of keys, weapons or aything that suits the theme. Collect-em-ups also use maps more than linear scrolling fire/fist fights.

Barbarian 2 (Psygnosis) logo

Die Qualitätsschwänkungen im Hause Psygnosis sind schon faszinierend: In lichten Augenblicken produzieren die Liverpooler Mega-Hits wie "Lemmings" -dann gibt's plötzlich wieder Frust statt Lust!

Um gleich mal den schrecklichen Verdacht auszuräumen, wir wurden hier ein uraltes Game testen: Mit den gleichnahmigen Palace-produkt von 1989 hat dieser Zweitbarbar überhaupt nichts zu tun! Obwohl "überhaupt nichts" bei genauer Betrachtung auch nicht so ganz stimmt, fast scheint es, die Psygnosis-Jungs hatten doch ein bißchen zur Konkurrenz übergeschielt. Wie sonst wäre es zu erklären, das man vom Konzept des klassischen Vorgangers so drastisch abgewichen ist? Anstatt der ungewöhnlichen, aber gut beherrschbaren Maus/Iconsteuerung wird jetzt ganz normal per Joystick gekämpft und gelaufen. Einzelne Funktionen, wie etwa das aufsammeln von herumliegenden Schwertern, lassen sich wahlweise auch auf Maus und Tastatur legen. Wass ja an sich kein Fehler ist, zumal man mit der "neuen" Steuerung ganz gut zurecht kommt.

Auch die Vorgeschichte geht in Ordnung, ist aber fur das Spiel völlig unerheblich. Beschränken wir uns daher auf das Ergebnis: Der böse Necron hat den ersten Teil windersamerweise doch überlebt, weshalb Hegor nun durch sechs Level (Wald, Hohlen, Dorf, Schloß, Verliese, Necrons Tempel) lätschen darf, um zu vollenden, was er angefangen hat. Handlung und Ausstattung des Games entsprechen dabei grundsätzlich dem gängigen Actionadventure-Standard. Unser Barbar kann also laufen, springen, Salti schlagen und Leitern erklimmen.

Für die diversen Fundsachen gibt's ein Inventory, wo all die Enterhaken, Seile, Tranke und Schlüßel verstaut werden. Gekämpft wird anfangs mit der bloßen Faust, später kann man sich die in der Landschaft verstreute Eisenwarenhandlung zunutze machen und mit Schwertern, Axten, Armbrusten, Speeren, etc. ans Werk gehen.

Barbarian 2 (Psygnosis)

Bleibt die Frage, warum sie nie so recht Spaß aufkommen will. Daß mag an den unfairen Stellen liegen oder an den Bugs des Programms: Manchmal verliert Hegor ohne ersichtlichen Grund Energie, ein anderes Mal steht er mitten in einem Gegner, ohne daß irgendwaß passiert.

Außerdem umfaßt der Spielscreen gerade mal den halben Bildschirm, der Rest ist den Statusanzeigen und viel gähnender Schwarze vorbehalten. Traurig auch, daß Hegor ein ziemlicher Winzling ist, genau wie seine 50 verschiedenen Feinde, seien das nun Drachen, Krieger, Wuümer oder Bären.

Noch trauriger daß wie vor des ofteren umgeschaltet wird, wo Scrolling vorhanden ist, ist es nicht hundertprozentig ruckelfrei.

Dazu gesellt sich ein weder musik -noch effektmäßig sonderlich aufregender Sound, was in der Summe doch zu einer mittelherben Enttäuschung führt.

Nein, von der Fortsetzung eines Klassikers hatten wir uns einfach mehr erwartet.

Daß sich nun Waffen abnützen und gelegentlich Kobolde dem Helden seine mühsam gesammelten Goldstücke klauen, ist ganz zwar nett, kann uns aber auch nicht mehr versöhnen.. (mm)

Barbarian 2 (Psygnosis) logo

Before the gorgeous Shadow Of The Beast, Psygnosis gave us their very own Barbarian. Now he's back, but haven't games moved on since then?

Game titles eh? Don't you just love 'em? First there was, er, Barbarian, then there was, er, Barbarian, then came Barbarian 2, and now we've got, um, Barbarian II. Oh boy. Still, it's easy to tell the difference between them all, because in Barbarian you controlled a muscular neanderthal who ran around hacking people to bits with his big sword, whereas in the other Barbarian you controlled a muscular neanderthal who ran around hacking people to bits with his big sword and in Barbarian 2 you controlled a muscular neanderthal who ran around hacking people to bits with his big sword. In this Barbarian II however, you control a muscular neanderthal who runs around hacking people to bits with - oh, I give up.

Okay, so maybe it's not quite that simplistic. Maybe as well as hacking people up you have to do quite a lot of trekking around mapping the huge world, visiting shops, solving problems and, er, hacking people up some more. Maybe you get lots of really nifty parallax-scrolling graphics to look at in six different sub-worlds, maybe you have to find keys to open locked doors (zzzz...) and maybe you can collect several different weapons which force you to use quite different attacking strategies. Well, alright, there's no 'maybe' about it - you do indeed get all these things in Barbarian II, but the fact of the matter is they're just the tiniest of cosmetic additions to some of the shallowest gameplay around.

Hegor (for such is the eponymous barbarian's name) just runs - well, it's more of a mince, really - around the various levels attacking bad guys and innocent passers-by alike, collecting the gold left behind when they die, and spending it in the shops found in the later stages where better weapons, extra energy, information and so on can be bought. All of this stuff can be found lying around or stolen from other characters anyway, so what Barbarian II all boils down to is a hefty amount of baddy-slashing and map-making. Get yourself a really big piece of paper and set aside a day or two and you shouldn't have too many problems with it - my first game lasted almost an hour and saw 23 percent of Hegor's quest completed, and that without mapping, planning, or even trying very hard.

Even the shakiest of players will find making headway presents very little difficulty

It only ended when deep forest beyond the village of Thelston (the village is the third of the six levels), I fell down an invisible pit with spikes at the bottom of it and died. Until that completely unfair and infuriating death (an entire hour's gameplay down the drain thanks to something which was invisible and unavoidable - even more so than then similar traps in Rick Dangerous et al - in a game with no save facility, level codes or whatever?

Someone at Psygnosis has either a very nasty sense of humour or a shrewd understanding of how quickly people are going to finish this game), old Hegor was in no trouble of any kind, such is the extremely generous energy allowance you start off with and the minimal effect of attacks by the enemy characters. Even the shakiest of players will find making headway in Barbarian II presents them with very little difficulty. Of course, much of the above is applicable to many other games which have enjoyed considerable success in the past - the Shadow Of The Beast games are the most obvious comparison, and fans of those will in all probability glean a fair amount of enjoyment from this. Even given that, though, there are a good few flaws in this game.

The worst one is the map system. For a game which relies almost entirely on mapping, the layout is ludicrous - how can it possibly be that, standing at a T-junction with two paths running off in entirely opposite directions, taking either of them results in Hegor ending up in exactly the same place? It's not just occasionally either - it's repeated all the way through the game and it baffles me utterly.

It has a haphazard half-finished feel

Also, aren't we beyond games with an play area which only occupies half of the screen by now? And finally there;s the collision detection. Now I can forgive the game for having two characters overlap without colliding when they're standing at different heights, but the number of times Hegor can swing his weapon right through the middle of an enemy without causing it any harm whatsoever when he's standing right beside him is absurd. It gives things a haphazard, half-finished feel which is the last thing we've come to expect from Psygnosis, and sadly it seems to be symptomatic of Barbarian II's all-round total lack of heart.

This is a well put-together game, but it's one of the laziest pieces of design I've seen in ages - most Hi-Tec cartoon licences have more to them than this. Psygnosis have kept us waiting a long time for Barbarian II, but while they've been hanging about the rest of the software industry has moved on. This is big and quite pretty, but this sort of game design just won't do any more.

Barbarian 2 (Psygnosis) logo

The original Barbarian was one of the game that put both the Amiga and Liverpool software house, Psygnosis, on the map. Never before had players experienced the impressive intro, colourful graphics and sampled sounds that have now become the norm. So how does the sequel shape up?

Players again take on the role of our hero, Hegor the Horrible, a fantasy thug with bad attitude and some nifty monster-bashing moves. This is a large game with plenty to explore but it's basically just another beat-em-up at the core. The challenge is to find the easiest way to dispatch the soldiers, goblins, spiders, winged serpents and other creatures that inhabit this barbaric land. With over fifty enemies hanging around the surroundings, this task should keep you going for quite a while. A touch more interaction with a few of these would have been welcome. Your ultimate aim is to infiltrate the dark and dingy dungeons of the evil Necron and, erm, kick his butt.

You may be pleased to hear the programmers have kept the icons out of Barbarian II. These stopped the flow of the first game and have been replaced by a series of joystick combinations and a few keyboard commands.

On your travels through the demonic world, you need to constantly search for treasure chests, money bags, magic potions, handy gadgets and new weapons. Spears, daggers, broadswords, axes and crossbows can all be collected and put to good use. Be warned, though, don't become too much of a hacker slasher! Every time you swish a sword into the side of a creature, for instance, the blade will dwindle until it finally breaks into little pieces. The strength of the current weapon can be seen at the bottom of the screen along with your health rating. Hegor can carry three objects at a time and this is where the strategy bit comes in. Will you keep the grapple hook or pick up that all-important crossbow?

Visually, Barbarian II bears little resemblance to the original. To be honest, I was very disappointed when I first saw the game. The large animated sprites of Barbarian have been replaced by small sprats. And considering he is on the screen all the time, Hegor looks nowhere near the superhero demanded by such a role. The size of his feet, for example, make him look like he's wearing a couple of anvils. Psygnosis claim there are over 2,000 frames of sprites animation in Barbarian II. A case of quantity over quality I fear. At least the digitised grunts 'n' groans will bring those feelings of nostalgia flooding back when you hear them.

What have we got, then? A reasonably playable game let down by presentation. If only Psygnosis had used some of the fancy graphics routines seen in Shadow of the Beast 2. Then they would have had a winner.

Nevertheless, map-happy arcade adventure fans will probably lap it up.