Version tested: PC
I've never read a Conan the Barbarian novel, but I suspect that they're weirdly comforting. Heads will be knocked from shoulders and rib-cages will be crushed as the red mist descends, but you're travelling in the company of someone who can handle themselves pretty well, and the fantasy's warmly familiar in a pulpy sort of way, what with all its serpent worshippers and full moons and tumble-down temples.
Tiny Barbarian DX channels the popular idea of Robert E. Howard's fiction with surprising power - and it too is weirdly comforting. This is an old-school hack-and-slash platformer-brawler unburdened by tricks and gimmicks and RPG progression systems. Playing it takes me back to 1990 so forcefully that I need to keep reminding myself I don't have double maths and a long-distance run tomorrow morning.
It's unadorned, then, but the game's so wonderfully unselfconscious in its aims that it creates the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy its simple charms. Run, jump, smack a variety of snake things around and make your way through a handful of deadly levels landing on as few spikes as possible. You'll be done in two hours (The Serpent Lord is the first episode in a series of four short instalments, all of which are covered by the price), and replay's only really an option if you're hunting for the hidden diamond collectables or aiming for a speed run - but what's here is enough, just about. This is both a decent platformer-brawler in its own right and a portal back to a more straightforward era - an era when platformer-brawlers were the fanciest things a game could hope to be, so why add anything more?
That's not to say there isn't variety. Beyond the basic handful of combos lies a game that's eager to mix things up in a series of thrifty ways, whether it's the pre-credits horde mode that sees you dumped into the adventure proper tied to a tree and being attacked by buzzards, or sections where you have to scramble upwards to escape an endlessly scrolling screen or race across a golden temple on the back of a war cat. Bosses are simple but satisfying and each change of tilesets - sandstone ruins, gloomy sewers, bizarre palaces - sees a handful of new monsters introduced, including hands that reach up from fetid pools and scarlet snakes that spring from downed conjurers once you've played a few rounds of Zelda tennis against them. The animation's astonishingly good: your barbarian's just bursting with circus strongman energy as he races around cleaving and sundering.
Does it stick in the mind? About as firmly as a Conan the Barbarian novel, I suspect: you'll play it, enjoy it, and then forget about it all pretty swiftly. A few years later you'll spy it from the corner of your eye and you'll get to rediscover the whole thing once more. That was always the way with a good pulp, right? And, now that nobody really reads pulp fiction any more, it's the way with a good platformer-brawler, too.
7 / 10