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Batbarian: Testament Of The Primordials

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
Developer: Unspeakable Pixels
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2020


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PC Review - 'Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials'

by Cody Medellin on May 26, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Batbarian: Testament Of The Primordials is a narrative-driven, 2D action adventure with an emphasis on puzzles and heavy dose of snark and humor.

For players, the Metroidvania game is a portmanteau that immediately tells you what to expect from an otherwise normal-looking, side-scrolling adventure game: a big, sprawling world with connected rooms, the gradual leveling of your character that necessitates traversing previously explored areas several times to gain access to new areas and items, challenging boss fights, and secret areas. Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials is another game in what is becoming a crowded genre in the indie space, but it changes a few standards and introduces some new ones, making it stand out in a good way.

After deciding whether you want to be a male barbarian with a sword or a female barbarian with claws, Batbarian starts with you falling down a large chasm. You miraculously survive while your friend, a bat named Pip, casually swoops down to check on you. Once you recover, you find yourself in a very dark dungeon, and your glowing bat friend is the only source of light. Instead of wanting to ransack the place for loot or stop a great evil, all you want to do is get out of there.

Despite what was written above, you'll eventually have to kill the great evil lurking in the dungeon if you want a chance of getting out of there. What drives the story is the humor, which reveals itself when you're initially falling to your supposed doom. The dialogue choices either let you be serious, snarky, or somewhere in between, and that line of thinking persists with every dialogue choice. The responses from some characters play out perfectly against your choices without creating a branching gameplay path, and there are situations that play into the unexpected, such as a boss fight that abruptly ends when the monster smells money on you and decides to forgo the fight. The writing is strong, so the humor doesn't feel forced or go for a barrage of references and memes, so don't skip the text.

As alluded to in the beginning, Batbarian is a Metroidvania-style title, and all of the genre hallmarks are on display. The big difference has to do with your companion, Pip. By default, she is a great source of illumination, and the game's dark atmosphere plays up that mechanic; you'll enter some areas blindly without her unless you turn up the game's brightness to artificially combat that.

Pip's illumination is enough to activate some light-sensitive crystals, which can reveal platforms or other doors. Some of the crystals and switches are out of the way, and this is where the throwing mechanic comes into play. Throw your infinite cache of berries in any direction, and Pip darts over to eat them, lighting up any crystals along the way so that more platforms and doors can be activated. Some crystals require Pip to remain there, and the sticky fruit keeps her there for a bit longer. Find some of the spiked fruit and Pip becomes enraged, diving for it to swat it away while barreling through any enemy in her way. Later in the game, you'll find the ability to infuse Pip with elemental traits like fire, and the game does a good job of using of all of these things through clever puzzles. None are too difficult to suss out, but they are tricky enough that you feel good once you discover the solution.

By comparison, your barbarian's upgrades are less exciting. You get a few things, such as the ability to throw rocks to activate switches or knock down enemies, a skill that's useful for a few puzzles. You can also charge up your weapon to break some blocks. A few portions of the journey allow you to have a companion that can do things like conjure up fireballs or throw bombs, but their powers are limited and can only be refilled through combat. It helps to not get too attached to them, since they tend to die once the script calls for it. Otherwise, expect to get a standard slew of health, speed and defensive upgrades along the way as opposed to new weapons or anything more exciting. It's something you'll miss later in the game, when bosses take a very high number of hits to defeat.

One thing that some players might not appreciate is the leveling system in Batbarian. Initially, it doesn't stray too far from the norm, so killing enemies grants XP and reaching specific thresholds boosts you a level. Instead of automatically boosting stats or letting you assign points to specific areas, the game subjects you to three slot machine spins, with each spin giving a chance for three points to get allocated into attacks, defense, or awareness, which lets Pip's light area grow larger and increases your chance of finding good loot in chests. Those who enjoy roguelikes might like the randomization, but those who favor control will dislike that luck determined they couldn't beef up their attacks.

Despite all of that, the game's options menu is surprising. There is a category labeled "Assists," and it essentially acts as a difficulty modifier for the entire game. From boosting attack stats to increasing XP, every option leans toward decreasing the game's difficulty level. While the purists might scoff, it gives those who aren't so seasoned in the genre a better chance at beating the game, and with several adjustable options, it provides a better difficulty curve rather than a blanket "easy" mode.

Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials is a very solid Metroidvania game. While the story isn't anything special, the humor in the writing is good enough to keep you paying attention to the cut scenes. The level design is well done, and it complements the bat powers. The combat is good enough, even if the leveling system may not be to everyone's liking, and the various gameplay tweaks mean that there's a good chance players can tackle this from beginning to end. For genre fans, Batbarian is worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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