As soon as I heard the title of Bardbarian [Free], I had a good feeling that this was going to be something worth checking out. It's a little known fact that bard appreciation is a sign of good taste, after all. So I was certainly looking forward to giving this a try, but my face had no way of knowing how much it was about to get rocked. This game is half-shooter, half-castle defense, and half-RPG, mixed in with a good sense of humor and some sweet tunes. Don't worry about that extra half, barbarians have no need for math! Just kidding, stay in school, kids. Being able to calculate the best angle to cleave a skull in twain with your broadsword is a skill that can apply to all kinds of jobs.

In Bardbarian, you play as Brad, the defender of a town that is frequently assailed by monsters looking to destroy the town's awesome crystal. Growing rather bored with smashing skulls the traditional way, Brad decides to forge a lute from one of his axes and use the language of love to lay some hate down on his enemies. Your main goal is to destroy every enemy that approaches the village, and to protect the village's crystal while making sure you don't get finished off yourself. Brad cannot directly attack the monsters, but he can shred a wicked tune that will summon allies to his side who can. Taking the bard thing seriously, he can also use one of three buffs on the party to temporarily boost their attack, speed, or defense.

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Everyone attacks with projectiles, giving the whole thing a shooter twist. You need to weave through enemy bullets while positioning your group such that you can take out your targets. In the beginning, it's really easy, but as you progress, the game almost starts to go into danmaku/bullet hell territory. The enemies get stronger, more numerous, and fire more projectiles, so sooner or later, you will be defeated. Luckily for Brad, the enemies drop gold that can be used to improve the abilities of his group and make some useful additions to the town itself. You'll almost always have enough gold to improve something, so you'll come back a little bit stronger every time.

As you progress through the day, you'll unlock new allies to fight by your side, eventually recruiting 12 different types of adventurers to fight by your side. Each of them has a different way of helping you out, from attackers with various types of projectiles to support type characters that can heal or build turrets. In the beginning of the game, you can have up to three allies join you at a time, but as you upgrade, you'll be able to have a larger band. Regardless of the size of your group, though, you can only have three different types of allies, so you really have to consider if you want to bring along a healer at the cost of another attacker, for example. The units are fairly well-balanced, with lots of winning combinations, allowing you a lot of control as to how you want to play, as well as offering great incentive for replays.

The game's main mode spans a single day, with 20 waves of enemies. That might not sound like much, but the way the difficulty ramps, it'll take you a while to get strong enough to survive. You'll reach checkpoints a few times throughout the day, and you are free to start from any of them once you've hit them, but it's a bad idea when you're weak to jump back in where you left off. See, as you play, your teammates will gain levels, making them stronger and able to take more hits. When you start from a checkpoint, they'll be back to their base levels. This can be mitigated with a couple of the town improvements available in the shop, but in the beginning, you probably won't be able to afford to sink much gold into them, so you'll have to start from the beginning of the day if you want to make a proper run at it. It might sound like a grind, but the game is so fun to play, it never feels like it.

You can move Brad around with a floating virtual joystick, and use any of his abilities by touching buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. Every ability has a note cost associated with it. You'll earn notes as you play, and if you stand still, you'll gain them a bit more quickly. Of course, it's pretty dangerous to stand still for long in this game, so soak them up while you can. Your party will hang around you and move with you. They have lifebars just like you do, and if theirs is depleted, you'll lose that unit and have to summon another one. How tightly they stick with you can be upgraded in the shop, but there's no doubt that they present a much larger target for projectiles.

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Should you manage to avoid getting anyone hurt in the process of killing five enemies in a row, you'll earn a stun attack which is necessary for surviving the more crowded waves. As your group gets larger, it's harder to keep out of the way of enemies, so there are times where you might want to have a smaller group so that you can earn stuns more easily. You'll also generally want to keep a buff up at all times. The effects of buffs are temporary and you can only have one up at any given time, which adds another layer of strategy to the game. It all adds up to a wonderful combination of skills, reflexes, preparation, and thinking fast.

If you've cleared the campaign mode, bought all the upgrades, or just need a break, don't worry, you're not done yet. There's also a survival mode that completely ditches that whole defense thing and embraces a pure shooter experience. Your upgrades don't apply in this mode and you can't summon allies at will, so it's all on your skills and choice of buffs. You play on a medium-sized field with enemies appearing one after another. Random types of allies will appear on the field, and by touching them, you can add them to your group. The goal here is simply to survive as long as you can. The game supports Game Center leaderboards and achievements, so you can compete with other players for the best time. If that's not enough, the developer will apparently be adding an endless wave mode to the game in an upcoming update.

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The graphics are colorful and cartoony, with obvious special care taken to make enemy projectiles stand out against the mayhem. There are a lot of humorous touches in the animations, giving the game personality to burn. Then there's the music. Oh man, the music. You know as soon as you hear the Queen-like track hit during the title screen that you're going to be enjoying the tunes in this game, and they do not disappoint. The music that plays during the game is frenetic, rocking, and makes the whole thing feel like a big, crazy rock ballad of destruction. It fits Bardbarian absolutely perfectly.

As for the IAP situation, you can buy gold and a nicely-priced gold doubler, but the game feels like it was balanced without any of that in mind. Like I said earlier in the review, you'll always be able to afford some upgrades after playing, so it never feels like you're spinning your wheels trying to scrounge up cash. Still, if you do decide that you want to speed things up a little, the doubler is only a dollar, which is refreshing given how many games go for a five dollar doubler these days. I played through without it for the purposes of this review, and I never felt like I needed it, so even if you're not down with IAP, you have nothing to fear.

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The only fly in the ointment is that as you get towards the end of the main game, a few weird bugs and crashes start to occur. I never lost any progress as a result of those crashes, but it really does seem like the latter portion of the game wasn't tested as thoroughly as the first three-quarters. Some of the units have glitched behavior, as well. The developer has said they're issuing a patch very soon to address these issues, but at the moment, it's something you should be aware of.

That stuff aside, the game is just amazingly fun to play. Sometimes with genre mash-ups, things can get a bit dicey in terms of appealing to fans of the genres represented, but I truly feel this game hits all the right notes. Shooter fans are going to appreciate the fast action with a layer of strategy, while fans of defense games will surely enjoy the variety of units and strategies delivered in a fast-paced package. It's received a great reception from the members in our forum, so head there if you want to read some more impressions. Barbarian is a game that just feels right in a lot of ways, and with a low price on top of that, you really need to pick it up, post haste.

TouchArcade Rating

  • postmodernpilot

    I bet the Devs are flipping their shit right now.

    • Mike Gaboury

      You better believe we are. The tweetdeck notification came up that someone had tweeted about bardbarian, i saw the link and got goosebumps. I can't even begin to explain the feeling of how it feels to have someone genuinely enjoy playing your game, but we couldn't be more proud. We're so excited to have this kind of reception for our first game, already fixed bugs and submitted to apple this morning, and ready to support and add content to this game in hopes more and more people will continue to enjoy it.

      Thank you all so much.

      • Shawn Blais

        I was so damn worried they were going to slam us for the bugs. Man, now I can finally relax. 5/5 from TA, I can pretty much die happy now πŸ™‚

      • Zaraf

        Well the fact that you both have been very active in the community listening to feedback and working WITH the community to resolve the bugs probably had a big impact. Bugs happen, but to know that the devs are actively working on them basically makes them a non-issue.
        Had you been the typical silent devs with no news of what is happening, the TA community would probably had been far more negative and I doubt this review's score would have ignored the bugs the way that it did.
        We need more "community friendly" game devs like you guys! Keep up the good work!

      • JCho133

        You deserved it that's for sure

      • Shawn Blais

        Btw, patch has been submitted to Apple, should fix all the issues mentioned in the post. As a temp-workaround you can sign-out of GameCenter.

      • jeffberg

        Yep, I'll second you deserving it. Bought the game over the weekend and it's become my go-to game to play in bed. You've single-handedly delayed my sleep by an average of an hour and a half since I started playing. Thanks (and curse you)!

      • Brognak

        Just wanted to say, thank you so much for sane IAP prices. Like holy shit, buying everything costs what $5? You guys should be the standard all others are judged against.

    • whitestatic

      I don't believe they having anything to flip at this point. Last we heard it was all in their pants.

      • Mike Gaboury

        Treefortress are a bunch of pant-shitters. RIP devpants.

  • koryc

    Definitely gonna buy

  • Loistava

    Love the game. Bought doubler and some gold bags just to support your great work!

  • Retro Nug

    It's funny because I got an instant good feeling about this game from the moment I saw it's name just like the reviewer got. I don't regret the purchase. Actually, I'm enjoying the game greatly! Good job, devs! Keep it up!

    I dunno if this was part of your upcoming patch but the game gets really laggy whenever I come back to it after using a different app. I have to restart it completely to get it back to normal. This is on an iPod touch 5th gen.

  • lifeat78

    Bought this morning and have really been enjoying It. The lag between screens (iPad 3) is a little annoying, but I can deal. Hopefully that's fixed in an update. One thing I appreciate is the fact that the game is right in my wheelhouse for difficulty. First couple of waves are easy, and then it starts to get challenging. Nicely balanced game.

  • JCho133

    FYI I believe Endless mode that's coming soon is actually more like an endless runner

    • JCho133

      Whoops nvm

      • JCho133

        Wait yeah

  • Jay G

    Been playing it all weekend, I'm not a big bullet hell or tower defense fan, but this game achieves a really fun balance. Definitely deserves 5/5.
    I bought the doubler too, more to support the dev than to help rush through the game faster.
    I hope they add different towns/castles, etc.. to defend.

    • Mike Gaboury

      Thanks so much! Definitely looking into additional content πŸ˜€

  • Revognah

    Agreed. Bought this last night and ended up playing until 7 am. At work now and the struggle is real, but totally worth it.

    • Mike Gaboury

      The last 2 weeks before game launch were like this for me, I know that feel bro. I'm there half asleep with you. That sounds weird, and I refuse to correct my wording. Good luck have fun.

  • EZ Ice

    This game is a perfect example of "How it's done!"

    Take a few known tried and true mechanics, switch them up a bit to make them fresh...wrap it all up in nice art...done!

    What a cool game!

  • ste86uk

    Congrats guys I'm glad the bugs that you've already sorted didn't take the rating down you deserve 5. So will that be 6 stars once endless is open to everyone because that's really cool too : )

  • StealthDawg

    I got the golden axe to help
    Support the devs. This 5 star review is well deserved. This game deserved no less than 5 stars. Happy to see it for y'all.

  • shaymon

    Well deserved! Can't wait for new content! Might want to plan for a way to dump gold as a lot of people will have a boat load saved up. πŸ™‚

  • Mike Gaboury

    We've been talking about adding this as many people have requested it, so long as it doesn't interfere with the core balance of the game we spent so long trying to ensure was fun/fair while still being challenging I don't see any reason why we can't. More than likely it will be purposely expensive to ensure its an end game item though.

  • Johan Bauer Gjestland

    This is such a great game, thanks guys!

    • Mike Gaboury

      NO! Thank you Johan.

  • cowtruck123

    Yeah, I really want this added too. Great game, bye the way devs.

  • kurds

    It's a perfect fusion of Battleheart and Nimble Quest. Really fun. I'm on the 4th boss in the main campaign and I find that it's just challenging enough where the upgrades really make a difference and makes the choices more interesting. Five stars for sure though my game is stuck on a wave and won't spawn the next wave. Even after complete restart. Hopefully the upcoming patch fixes this.

  • rewind

    This is one magnificent game. I feel like it should be 6 stars. Since 5 stars and Sha

    • rewind

      *Since 5 stars and Shaun Musgrave are practically synonyms

  • OneBagTravel

    I dunno guys, that trailer is weird. I didn't learn how you'd actually play the game. It looks like you just circle strafe everything. I could be wrong but this looks like one of those games that gets boring after a few minutes. 5 star rating seems strange.

    • Jake7905

      Try actually playing the game, then the 5 star rating won't seem so strange.

  • TheFrost

    What an awesome start for 2014: Hoplite, Castle Doombad and Bardbarian. Keep em comin'!

  • GreyLeg

    Not sure if this is a bug or feature, but my healer seams happy to heal herself to death???

  • JoeriD

    Howdy. Longtime TA 'user' first-time poster here. I bought the game as is became game of the week and had much fun with it over the weekend. The attention to style, cleancut design, diverse/hectic yet soothing gameplay, controls as smooth as butter and of course upgrades! make for a lot of value for a $2 game (ye bought the axe right away).

    I just wanted to say that I've never had the pleasure of "meeting" the devs this way. Your respons to getting game of the week and to the community. Well, lets just say makes feel even more involved with a game. I start guessing how it is made. How much fun the whole proces must be, and how frustrating and everything. The game just shows with what enthusiasm it's created and it plainly rocks, in many ways. Hope you guys keep on improving this beauty and hope to see much more things come down from that treefortress.

    Ps. When it comes to the bugs. Now I've made it to night time glitches have started to occur. Like how the first wave never ends. Units just stop comming, and I'm just running arround..Also when a game ends or when I quit it, I can't get back to the store, and have to close and restart the game. Don't know if these are know issues, but I'm looking forward to the first update πŸ™‚ cheers guys!

    • Mike Gaboury

      Thanks so much for the support and noticing all the love we put into making this game! Bug fixes have been submitted to apple, just awaiting approval πŸ˜€

  • MartianLM

    Bought the game and the golden axe. Loving the game so far and the optional IAP is for once well priced, it's IAP done right IMO.

    However the game is buggy on my iPad 2 (latest iOS version). It crashes semi regularly ( it doesn't shut down but buttons stop functioning) but worst of all I can't get past about wave 11 because the next wave never spawns. Very frustrating. Also for what looks like a resource light game I get a lot of frame rate issues/choppyness. Yes I have tried restarting the device.

    • MartianLM

      And tonight I run the game only to find my save game has been reset back to the start, I've lost all progress (I had most things unlocked and upgraded).


    • MartianLM

      Just talking away to myself here πŸ™‚

      So I ground my way back to the night levels from scratch, unlocked almost everything again and now the game won't run, stuck on the loading screen. FFS πŸ™

  • threejane

    How does this get a perfect score? There's the GameCenter bug, plus:

    My coin doubler stopped doubling.
    Sometimes when I use the attack power up it is just on permanently (which is awesome btw but clearly broken).
    Right now my lightning bolt simply doesn't fill up at all.
    I just played a round and the screen got stuck on the loading screen (with the skull that turns).
    Sometimes the boomerangs go insane and slow my device to a halt.
    Sometimes waves of monsters take about a half minute to come out (but do come out eventually, and GameCenter is turned off).
    If a healer starts to heal, it just continues to do so until it dies no matter what (maybe this is a feature).
    After some amount of time, necromancers simply stop raising corpses.
    If I pay to unlock a unit then try to pay to upgrade the unit immediately, it fails and I become unable to upgrade the unit at all without an app restart.

    How is this a perfect game when it is so obscenely broken? I'm playing on a nearly brand-new iPhone 5s which is up-to-date patchwise.

    • Apposl

      Agreed. They rated too much of the game based on love for friendly/active developers, not on the game as it played. Fail on TA's part.

  • Scot Damn

    Though I'm a bit of a metal fan, I've avoided this for some reason. I ended up buying it last night though and I'm pretty stoked I did. The sweet melodic riffs combined with the engaging game play and plethora of upgrades - it makes for one hell of a fun experience. Get the golden axe, it's easy to justify buying for what you get initially at $.99.

  • Pilgrim13

    Great game, congrats to the developers. Hours of fun.
    I thought I'd try this and put it down over 8 hours later, with a break for dinner.
    I bought the Golden Axe (gold doubler) for an extra $0.99 and quite happy with the purchase. You can buy gold (at reasonable prices!) to speed upgrades, but you don't need to. I upgraded everything in 21 hours of game play, and had a blast doing it. Still working out what strategy I need to finish, but it's fun exploring options.
    Each character has their own strengths and quirks, and trying different combinations is fascinating.
    The developers must have fun developing this one, becaue it is heaps of fun to play.

    • Shawn Blais

      wow, thanks for the praise! Feedback like this makes all the hardwork worthwhile.

  • Reap6r66

    Easily an appstore best in my opinion. Lately I cant find a game that holds my attention for more than 20 min. Absolutely addictive game play,so glad I purchessed this. It also has a great example of what a pay scale should be I bought the doubler already and will make another in app purchase just for supporting dev. Love this game.

Bardbarian Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5