Tiny Barbarian DX follows closely in the footsteps of Shovel Knight, in that it’s clearly inspired by platformers from back when we talked about graphics in terms of bits.
It’s more SNES than NES though, with gorgeous pixel visuals that very much look the part. And while Shovel Knight riffed on the likes of DuckTales, Mega Man, and Mario, Tiny Barbarian DX more closely resembles Donkey Kong Country. Albeit with Conan the Barbarian as the lead.
There’s no soul wrenching plot or anything like that. You simply hit start and set off on an adventure full of hacking, slashing, running, and jumping. And that’s fine, because the mechanics here are sound, and it’s a joy to get around.
Is that you, DK?
The Donkey Kong comparisons are immediately apparent. You can grab edges of platforms to pull yourself up, ground pound to beat enemies, and grab vines to swing from platform to platform.
You’ll occasionally find creatures to ride on as well, and they’re reminiscent of the rhino sections in Donkey Kong Country.
There’s plenty of combat too, and it’s surprisingly deep. At first you’ll simply slash away at enemies until they’re dead, but as your opponents become more sophisticated you’ll have to use your entire moveset to best them.
Nothing’s explained from the offset, so you’ll need to experiment with different button combinations to figure out the different combat options at your disposal, but that’s a huge part of the fun.
You’re not the boss of me
As you might expect, there are bosses to defeat as here, and you’ll need to learn their patterns to fell them. They’re not quite Shovel Knight levels of difficult though, and you likely won’t have to try more than twice to get past them.
While the game is a challenging experience, it’s not a frustrating one. There’s a generous checkpoint system that rarely sets you back by much when you die. It’s enough to make death feel punishing, but not enough to have you throw your Switch at a wall.
Your progress is even saved automatically, so if you have to dash off for whatever reason, you can continue at the last checkpoint whenever you return. For a game that’s so clearly in love with retro it sure does a great job of existing in the 21st century.
If there are any complaints, it’s that things can get a little repetitive after a while.
There’s an impressive amount of content here for those willing to stick around for long enough, but you get the feeling that once you’ve completed the first level there isn’t an awful lot of new content to see moving forward.
There are no new weapons to unlock, or equipment that varies up the gameplay. It’s just different visuals and increased challenge. That might be enough for you, but others won’t be so inclined to carry on.
The boss battles are also a tad underwhelming compared to its competitors, and finding secret areas is a complete breeze. Just keep an eye out for slightly cracked rocks and you’ll be fine.
Little Shovel Knight
But ultimately, Tiny Barbarian DX is very good at what it does best – emulating platformers from days gone by.
It’s satisfying to play, gorgeous to look at, and provides a decent enough challenge even for those that cried and broke their SNES controllers 20 years ago.
Just don’t go in expecting another Shovel Knight, because this doesn’t live up to those expectations. Instead consider it a Shovel Knight-lite. Similar thrills, but it won’t blow your tiny mind.