10 Minute Barbarian – With only a short while left to save the world you’ve got to rally the troops and smash your opposition in preparation for a fight for the very land.
If anything we’ve been spoiled by games with times in their name. Half-Minute Hero is a roaring multi-hour campaign of clock-bashing, 10 Second Ninja is stuff full to the brim with levels, and the revised 10 Second Ninja X even has a King’s wealth of remade bonus levels. The aptly named 10 Minute Barbarian then, is a completely surprise, as most of its levels in fact come in at ten minutes long*, and there’s… well, there’s actually ten of them.
*Okay, some of the later ones have you choosing your moves a bit more carefully and so maybe 15 Minute Barbarian — or once, on the optional hard-mode, Twenty Minute Barbarian, but don’t let that ruin my attempts at an opening paragraph.
It’s not that I was rushing the game either. It plays out in a very simple fashion. Each map has 20X12 tiles, some are woods, some are castles, some are deadly-deadly temples, and some are, well, water. You simply click to move your gigantic, tile-filling, loin-cloth clad barbarian around the map. It would have been nice to have numpad input work here, but regardless – Oh-ho, off he/She goes, Lord/Lady Barbarian, collecting troops from friendly castles, or conquering and winning over those opposed to them. Their simple goal? Unite the kingdom of knights, archers, trees, the occasional dragon, and some cavalry, and go biff and bosh (and roast) the naughty denizens of the haunted ruins who’re due to suddenly pop-up at there when the clock chimes Apocalypse.
Apocalypse O’Clock is basically when you run out of move-turns on the map, after that the various assorted necromancers and dragons rise up in the ruins and start smashing up the civilised peoples of the 20X12 area -note, outside of the pitchfork wielding rabble units which are miserable fodder, you are most definitely the most uncivilised thing on the map, you big, barbarian brute.
As an example, the first level “Northern Wastes” has a distinctly un-lofty 150 turns for you to rally the willing and smash the reluctant within, all before a single ruins erupts into a big pile of bad. The map is well designed, as they all are, in this case leading you through the fog-of-war along a coastline and into lands of the biggest hold-out, which just so happens to feature a dragon, yay!
Thankfully each rival keep/castle/town on a map is surrounded by crimson tiles, so you always know when one is near. UNFORTUNATELY walking through these red areas costs you one of your army each tile, so it’s definitely worth ‘recruiting/breaking the arm of’ the weaker ones as you pass them. Once you’ve started amassing some real numbers they just roll over like obedient doggos though – so sometimes it is worth exploring the map as best you can before you start recruiting, but then that could well be time a-wasting!
That’s really the majority of the game’s strategy, deciding which way and which locations to visit in order. Do you spend time retreading old steps to max out your army size? Which units do you upgrade the unit capacities for, or buy (in cases where you can) with all of the piles of gold you’ve been looting? Is the risk of cracking open the largest target early on worth it?
Each time you win over a formerly disloyal location to your cause they suddenly start pumping out appropriate units – sometimes of your choosing. You still need to nip back to visit as to pick up the extra fighters, which is definitely a core consideration while the turn-timer is rapidly ticking down closer to nil. That and it’s something you’ll probably be doing a lot, what with how squishy and easily-massacred the game’s units are. Most knights can take down a handful of rabble before succumbing to arrows and pitchforks, while archers are just as weak as rabble but can stick a few pins in treefolk before falling to their bloody lethal stomp — kids, don’t mess with trees.
I suppose I should talk about the combat, really. If you don’t mind -well, if you do then I don’t really know what to say. I’ll speak about only the parts that I’ve revealed thus far, before I move onto the other -unlockable- pieces.
So, starting combat is simple, completely simple, the simplest. You move onto a place you want. Then, whoosh, transition, and both armies take up traditional formations on either the left, or the right, side of the field – you don’t even get to choose.
This means that rabble are up the front, then knights, then archers. You then hit go, and they all dash at each other. Within a second the two front-lines smash into each other, with each arrow hit or weapon swipe making a strange squishing noise, something like someone slightly disturbing a beanbag. This bloodbath continues until somebody has lost every unit. Smaller, starting battles are sometimes about 30 units on screen, but the scale of the map adapts based on the combatants, and in the later game thousands of units are completely possible.
Oh, and when a little person dies, they leave a little skeleton where they fell. This is something which, even on the plain, browish-ish background, I didn’t initially realise. But, when you’ve had some of those previously mentioned trees, or a big row of cavalry, or even just a string of walls [not mentioned those yet] to push through you do start feeling a little sympathetic for the 400+ rabble and knights you lost while trying to beat up your enemies.
Before that first level is out though, and once you’ve heard plenty of that little beanbag-shuffling noise, and a fair bit of the wonderful, 1990’s era victory fanfare, you come across the first new unit to add to your awesome barbarian clique. The Dragon.
The Dragon lobs fire-balls – I mean, obviously the dragon does something fire related, you knew that, but the Dragon gobs little balls of fire, casting them through the air as if a scaly trebuchet. Better yet, you can actually direct where the dragon is aiming, able to puke burning balls of death wherever you so wish -although for reasons of magical game design, the dragons have a shield until all other units are dead, or they’ve been hit by a non-dragon unit. There is a negative to the dragon’s power though, oh-boy, friendly fire is most definitely on. Thankfully, those of us paying attention can just click away the dragon’s targeting when the friendly units get too close… most of the time.
This massively changes things, all of a sudden the cowardly archers which have been hidden behind walls [still not mentioned them properly] are completely vulnerable, and are now less likely to shoot your knights to death from behind the strange, health-bar’d fortifications. Those walls [aha] are indeed a big part of the tactical side of combat, and can be a complete pain in later levels while your fighters run idiotically into them, trying to shatter them to pieces while being bombarded with arrows, smashed with gobs of flaming-phlegm, or high-speed hadoken’d by necromancers.
Lucky then, more units have direct control.
When you get cavalry they come with several cool options: firstly, you can pick where they start, and even use a drag-able and reshape-able little box to decide precisely how they get going. You also, later, get to do this with the walking-trees. The cavalry however, have another feature over their woody pals – they have two target circles which you can move around. These dictate where they will charge when combat opens. It’s a feature which opens up a whole bevy of options; you can charge them straight into enemy troublemakers as to take the pressure off the squishy rabble; you can send them after the archers who are hiding behind that wall, making life easier for the units who follow; or, you could send them straight to the dragon after a quick jolt to the corner of the map. If you can hit that dragon then its shield is down, so you can pummel ol’ Sulpher-Breath with your own launching-lizard, hurrah!
There’s one final upgrade, The Banner of St. Kilda, this is another big game-changer. It allows you to drag from one point on the screen to another, giving instructions to any units within a select-area to move towards the indicated point. This is, for the adept, a quick way to work around a lot of the walls, although it can be a bit overwhelming what with a single click causing any dragons to shift target. It’s perhaps at this point that it dawns that the game was probably designed with mobile in mind, however the game holds up perfectly fine regardless.
So, that’s really your skill-set and the core of the game discussed. From that point it’s really a case of rinse and repeat; start a new level, build up your troops afresh, increase your caps or buy more trees and dragons, smash your foes. The game does also feature a harder mode, and you receive a rating out of 6 stars for each of the levels, which gives you something nice to aim for if you’re one of those people cursed with completionist-itus.
I suppose that really leaves me to talk about what is probably my favourite two things about the game. Visuals and audio. And the silly reason why.
Yes-yes, you’ve seen pictures of the game as you’ve scrolled down this article, it probably doesn’t look that impressive to most of you, and I most definitely described a weapon sound as a beanbag being ever so slightly disturbed earlier… but, yet, I list those two things as my favourite parts. Not the massive hordes colliding into each other? Not the tight turn-timer?
The visual style of the game, combined with the game’s -maybe 2- ‘music tracks’ and half-a-dozen sound effects remind me of a much simpler time. It reminds me of playing Epic (Mega Games’) Castle of the Wind -although that’s probably just the protagonist and grid-movement- and the various Sean O’Connor games for Windows, of being impressed when a game played a little .wav file, not because sound was a new thing to be celebrated, but because the sound was so simple and… well, completely unnecessary.
10 Minute Barbarian could easily have been a game with different coloured stick-men, and an ASCII map screen and it would still have been just as good, and because of that the simple little sounds, and the -I suppose- mostly unremarkable map screens, feel bloody wonderful.