Review: Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior
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Review copy provided by publisher
Why do people play super hard games? I’m sure you can come up with plenty of reasons, because I sure can. The challenging titles I enjoy, like Super Meat Boy and Celeste, reward your efforts with more content and a sense of achievement. There has to be a purpose to getting through gameplay that’s blisteringly hard, and I bring it up because that’s what Cybarian is lacking. This is a game full of tough fights, merciless traps, and survival on a razor’s edge, and all it really offers for your trouble is a little more of the same.
Your boy Cybarian has traveled thousands of miles across perilous wastes to find the mighty Sword of Ages, only to have it zap him into an entirely different era. Lucky for him, he ends up in a neon 80s hellscape of slums and skyscrapers, full of thugs and guards that desperately need a beatdown. As a barbarian of legend he is only too happy to oblige, and so your short quest is to clobber every soul in your path to… somewhere. I’ll be honest, I don’t know where this story goes because I had to check out of the game for reasons we’re about to get into.
You should note that this is indeed a short quest, running all of four levels in total. They’re not particularly long levels, either, lasting you less than ten minutes apiece. On most screens you’ll have an enemy or two standing in your way, usually some future retro wasteland punk with a spear or gun. Defeating all the enemies before you is the only way to move on, so combat forms the lion’s share of the gameplay. The rest is either navigating traps like spikes or lasers, or just crossing empty rooms. At the end of each stage you’ll battle a boss with a very conspicuous pattern to dodge until you can land your requisite dozen hits or so.
There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, at least for a small indie release. But like many indie releases that flounder, it’s the tuning that spoils the fun. Starting out, Cybarian is a two-button game, jump and attack. Your attack is a slow (for a platformer, anyway) sword swing that can be comboed into two more swings. However, the combo only clicks if you time your button presses carefully. Too soon or too late, and not only does your beefslab hero not attack, he falls on his toned ass to be shot or skewered. Almost all your foes take two or three hits so that combo is required, but miss a hit or get the spacing wrong and you’re gonna get hit. After the first stage you get a dodge roll as well, but that turns out to just facilitate stringing two of the same combos together against enemies that now take five hits. (I should also mention that the store trailer shows you using skills you unlock later in the game in the first level, so don’t be fooled.)
Frankly, I don’t see the appeal in using the exact same combo on a small variety of enemies for any length of time. You don’t even have an aerial attack, you can only swing while standing stock-still on the ground. And you need to get really good with that combo, because you can only take five hits before you die. Levels have one or two vending machines that sell one heart of healing at a time, for basically all the money you will ever have at once, so reaching low health is very nearly a death sentence. Most damning of all, though, is that levels have no checkpoints. You die at any point during your long trek, and it’s back to the start. At least you get to start over on bosses if you manage to reach them, though.
This should give you a pretty clear picture of why I couldn’t stick it out with Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior. It’s a tiny game with few features, and it’s going to beat the shit out of you just to see what little it offers. The pixel art is perfectly fine and colorful, the soundtrack is good if not memorable, but just like the rest of the game nothing really rises above serviceable. Even the options are lacking, offering no way to remap controls or customize your graphics beyond turning off the harsh scanline filter. I was hoping for some raucous, sword-swinging fun with Cybarian, but I feel less like a barbarian and more like a nerd playing dodgeball with swords here.