If a game on my phone costs more than 99 cents, I am hesitant to hit download, and I’m sure you are, too. However, I can promise Brad the Bardbarian is worth every red cent over that first 99. Bardbarian is an innovative mix of RPG, tower defense, and real-time battle games—an impressive feat made more impressive by the fact that this is developer TreeFortress’ first game. A lot of tender lovin’ care went into Brad, and it shows; it’s a lot of fun to play, has a rockin’ soundtrack, employs three game modes, and it’s customizable to your play style.
You play as Brad, a barbarian who has decided to trade in one axe for another. Now he keeps monsters from the town crystal with the power of music. While Brad doesn’t do damage himself (he gave up that lifestyle, remember?), he calls upon henchmen or “units” using notes that build up while jammin out. As you level up, you will be able to swap out units for different types (mages, archers, clerics etc.) based on how you prefer to play.
Like the units themselves, the baddies get bigger and more difficult to beat as you progress. They shoot balls of lava or lasers for the most part, with increasing frequency and power. (Beware the tiny Koffing with 360 degrees of purple death rays.) Brad uses Power Solos (buffs that cost musical notes) to increase your party’s speed, strength, or defense. The more you play, the more gold you collect and the more upgrades you can afford to make your units, your town, and Brad himself increasingly badass.
There are a few problems with the game overall. First and foremost, the tutorial is too short. This game has a lot more than story mode, but you wouldn’t know that from the intro. Perhaps the most useful tool in the whole game is an unmentioned mini-map at the top of the screen, which details where you are in relation to the baddies arriving from the forest. Without looking at the mini-map, goblins can sneak right up and attack the town crystal before you’re any wiser. Once I discovered the mini-map, the health bar above my head, and the upgrades store in the pause screen, my life (and Brad’s) got infinitely easier.
Defeated attackers drop gold, which you collect for upgrades. I was hesitant to click on the “upgrade shop”, thinking I’d need to warm up my credit card, but everything is bought with gold generated from playing the game. You can’t even use real-world money to buy in-game gold, which earns Brad major points. When you’re all spent of gold and ready to head back to the story, an options menu pops up with two extra challenge modes: Survival and Endless. Huh. Tutorial goblin didn’t tell me about that, either.
In Survival mode, you must collect wayward henchmen while dodging the bad guys. You earn coins like in story mode for every bad guy you destroy. In Endless, you run with a horde of baddies behind you, collecting gold as you go while avoiding pools of slime and shots from stationary baddies. Although this is the better grinding payoff, one hit kills you in Endless, so run with care. The controls of the game are, unfortunately, weakest in Endless and I found Brad would frequently run backwards into something not so nice if I didn’t take my finger off the screen every now and then. Overall, the controls worked better on my Kindle than my HTC; although there is an option on the phone to use a fixed joystick in the screen’s corner, which solved many of my control problems.
My final problem was that you cannot play individual levels. You have to beat an entire world (morning, noon, evening and night, each with five levels) all at once in order to move forward. That got tedious, until I discovered the challenge modes and then I just ground away until I could upgrade and move on.
At the end of the day, I am willing to overlook Bardbarian’s shortcomings in favor of its originality, variety of play options, and replay value. However, I did have to stumble upon most of the good stuff myself. Before finding the upgrades and challenge modes, I was ready to abandon Brad and let the bad guys have the town. TreeFortress has said that patches are coming—let’s hope the tutorial goblin makes a reappearance.
Is it Hardcore?
“Bardbarian” blends genres, has a variety of modes, and is customizable where it counts. With a few improvements, Brad could easily become a solid five.