Alright, stick with me here. I generally don’t like mustard. It’s too tangy, or sour, or… yellow, or something. I’m not sure what it is, but I usually can’t stand the stuff. However, in just the right amount, it can add a lot to certain foods. For instance, hamburgers. I take ‘em with ketchup and just a tiny bit of mustard. And don’t even get me started on the tightrope act known as deviled eggs — just a hair too much mustard and I go from Cookie Monster to actual monster.
I bring this up because with games, RPGs are my mustard. I could never get into Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft any more than I could gulp down a big bowl o’ French’s. But in just the right amount, a few RPG trappings here and there can spice up a game and turn it from “pretty good” to “insanely addicting”. Some examples of iOS games I love that have a delicious layer of RPG frosting in just the right amount are Meltdown, Infinity Blade, and, now, Bardbarian (out now, $0.99) by TreeFortress and BulkyPix.
You are Brad the Barbaric Bard, and your town is under attack. Naturally, you grab your magical half-axe-half-lute and start busting out wicked solos to attract warriors, which you then lead into battle. Sounds awesome, right? It is. And that’s pretty much all you need to know, premise-wise. Gameplay-wise, it’s another one of those mish-mash of genres that crop up every now and then on the App Store. This time it’s sort of like Nimble Quest and Kingdom Rush put together, and it works perfectly.
It’s like this: You wander around playing heavy metal riffs on your lute, which generates Notes. Once you have enough of them, you can summon an Archer, Ninja, or any of the ten other unlockable warriors. With enough upgrades you can have up to seven in your party, which you lead around, dodging enemy fire while your guys and gals fling arrows and heal and all that. It actually feels like you’re playing an object avoidance game and a tower defense game at the same time, which sounds a bit weird but makes perfect sense once you dive in.
As you kill enemies, they’ll drop gold, which is used to upgrade everything. And I mean everything. See, this is the mustard I was talking about before. You can upgrade all 12 of the individual warriors’ skills, usually making them less flimsy and more powerful. On top of that, you can also upgrade Brad himself, putting gold towards everything from Note generation to “bodyspray” (how close your group stays to you). Finally, you can upgrade your town, which will give you extra help in the form of Archers on rooftops and even a Town Drunk, who wanders around aimlessly and slows down packs of enemies by… well… you’ll see. In total there are almost thirty separate things you can spend gold on, each with different levels to achieve. The game hits that perfect Cookie Clicker sweet spot of always giving you enough currency to upgrade or buy something, creating a positive feedback loop that feels like it could almost go on forever — and you’ll want it to. One word of advice, though: buy the ‘ratcoon’ in the Town menu of the shop as soon as possible. Not only does it help collect gold, but it’s freaking adorable, too.
For as fun as the game is, though, it can get pretty repetitive. The landscape never changes, and after several hours I did start to get sick of looking at the same green playing field wave after wave. And while you may need to adjust your strategy at higher levels, you’re still always pretty much doing the same thing round after round. Still, the fundamental mechanics and deep upgrade system are so fun that despite having several other great games to review this week, Bardbarian is the one I can’t seem to put down. It all comes down to the mustard, and this game is one of the tastiest hamburgers I’ve had in a long time.
iFanzine Verdict: TreeFortress and BulkyPix’s Bardbarian is an absurdly addictive cocktail blending elements of tower defense, top-down shooter, and RPG. If you enjoy games like Nimble Quest (or Colossatron to some extent) that do the firing for you and let you worry about unit management, upgrades, and dodging instead, you’ll feel right at home here. Despite being slightly reminiscent of other recent games, though, it still feels completely fresh and is tons of fun. In my opinion, $0.99 is way too low a price for this, so go ahead and google TreeFortress’s address and mail them ten bucks while you’re at it. Or just buy the gold doubler for another dollar — not that you’ll need it.