How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. The focus of the game is truly the exploration, with your powers opening up new pathways exactly as you'd expect from a game with the ''Metroidvania'' descriptor.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat, Spatial-Reasoning Puzzles, Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~18 hours
Review Info: BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials was played on Windows PC using the Steam version.
Buy BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials if you like…
- Spatial Reasoning Puzzles
- Whimsical Characters
- Lore that you Explore
- Meticulous Exploration
▼ Review continues below ▼
Ever since digital distribution popularized indie games, we’ve seen a lot of titles designed to pay homage to gaming history, and among the more polished games it’s been relatively rare to find anything that is truly unique as a result. This is especially true when you’re looking at Metroidvania games, a genre which by name and definition takes inspiration from two specific titles. For most games I’ve reviewed, I could pick another Metroidvania title for an easy comparison, categorizing the games as “Igavania style”, “Metroid style”, “Zelda-like” and etc. Then along comes a game like BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials that really doesn’t fit into any mold. This is something truly wonderful, but it also makes it a lot harder to identify the audience it belongs to. BatBarian is a game about digesting single screen problems, solving spatial reasoning puzzles, and above all else it’s a game about multitasking. In spite of playing as a warrior who always speaks in all caps, brute force is rarely a viable choice in this game, forcing you to be clever and to utilize the abilities of your companions – especially the titular bat. Like any game in existence, you’re either going to be in this game’s niche or you’re not, but for all the risks that BatBatbarian: Testament of the Primordials takes, it does a very good job at forging a new interpretation of what a Metroidvania can be.
I’ll admit right off the bat (no pun intended) that I had very different expectations going into this game based on how the store page describes it. At the time of writing, the second bullet point of the key features section on the Steam Page is, “narrative-driven Metroidvania.” This immediately made me think that I’d either be slogging through walls of text or enjoying a well-written drama or comedy. To my surprise, it’s not like that at all. The “narrative” is mostly non-intrusive, with major lore points being exposed through exploration-based rewards. Most dialog includes some level of player involvement with Lucas-Arts adventure game style choices. Most of the time the dialog choices are just for fun, but they can also reward the player for paying attention to details. Overall they’re a fairly entertaining part of the game. In fact, the first five seconds of the game starts you off with a series of dialog choices as the Barbarian is apparently relating the events of the game to someone else. This means that the dialog’s humor could be the result of the world actually being whimsical, or that the Barbarian just has a sense of humor that they’re mixing into the story. It’s a fine setup that really helps you immerse yourself into the game’s world.
Once you’ve face-planted into the game’s first cavern, you’re given a lot of freedom to explore and discover the truth of the narrative, as well as the nuances of the game’s mechanics, on your own. The Barbarian and their bat Pip are basically inseparable throughout the course of the game, and it’s only together that the mechanics are truly interesting. The Barbarian has exactly one function aside from avoiding death, and that’s to slash wildly at a fairly short range in front of them. Predictably, you’ll be smashing down walls and breaking rocks with this feature, but mostly it’s your only reliable way of dealing damage. You can also throw rocks, but they’re mostly for hitting switches at range or getting a specific enemy’s attention. Besides jumping there’s no fancy dodge button, and you won’t be jumping off walls, thus Barbarian on their own would be pretty vulnerable. The bat Pip is your multi-tool. By default she produces a calm blue light which interacts with crystal switches throughout the caves, and as the game progresses you’ll be able to surround her with other elements that interact with objects in different ways. You control Pip by throwing fruit in an arc, which she dives after, changing her position. The default fruit type has infinite use, but in some cases you’ll need Pip to stay in a specific spot, or she will need to bash into something, and two limited fruit options control those functions. The “ammo” limit for the other fruits discourages random use, and encourages thoughtful application. Managing the position of both the Barbarian and the Bat is the basis for everything you will do in this game. Looking at each character individually, they’re quite simplistic in design, but working in tandem BatBarian barely even needs to stretch to provide numerous interesting challenges.
The core of the game both narratively and mechanically is the exploration. The cave is basically pitch black, but Pip’s light illuminates wall markings from previous adventurers, as well as suspicious walls, and thus navigating the dark is about shining your flashlight on everything in sight. BatBarian manages this setup by not including any scrolling in any part of the game’s map. Every room is a single screen, and it’s very rare for any screen to interact with the others, so you’re never overwhelmed with too much information available at any given time. Like any true Metroidvania game you’re going to run into obstacles that you can’t overcome without the abilities you get later, so it’s also good that BatBarian gives you a very interactive map that you can place symbols on to use as notes. If I were to give any advice to new players, I’d recommend using these map markings for anything that you find suspicious. Almost every secret is telegraphed in some way, and while later on there is a hint system available that can help you get to 100%, it doesn’t tell you everything. BatBarian is made for those that crave a no-handholding exploration experience, and it rewards observant players handsomely.
By no means is BatBarian just a spelunking tour with your favorite magic bat. The first time you visit just about every screen there’s going to be some kind of puzzle to solve. It starts out as merely managing your light to power the aforementioned light crystals, but there will also be blocks to push onto buttons, enemies to manipulate and manage, and especially traps to navigate and disarm. Each screen will have you taking note of all the elements you can take advantage of, and you can’t count out anything that you see – or even can’t see. Shining the light around the room might find a hidden switch or secret pressure plate, but also the solution to the puzzle will often be right in front of your nose. One of the many ways that BatBarian keeps things interesting is introducing new enemy types that interact with their environment in unique ways. Most of the time you must learn these interactions just to get them out of the way without taking damage, but sometimes you’ll need them to push a switch for you, or to use them as a platform to stand on. BatBarian will have you doing stealth, tricky platforming, and again a ton of multitasking to solve these puzzles.
Because BatBarian is about managing the position of not only the Bat and the Barbarian, but also all of the other enemies on the screen, many times puzzles are about execution rather than just finding the solution. This can be headache-inducing if it’s not something you’re used to. Playing on a controller using the default controls, you throw your fruit using the right stick, and you can aim that fruit in 360 degrees, giving you a ton of leeway to miss your target if accuracy ever matters. There are times when moving and throwing at the same time is optimal, which is sometimes like rubbing your belly while patting your head. It can be especially frustrating if a solution is completely obvious and the only gap between you and success is your fat thumbs being incapable of nudging the controls in just the right way. I want to emphasize that BatBarian’s controls are basically perfect in terms of responsiveness, thus none of its challenges are ever unfair, but subjecting yourself to them can be slightly masochistic at times.
The bosses are the pinnacle of this multitasking challenge, as they are brilliantly designed to test all of the abilities you’ve been practicing. There isn’t a single one that will only fall to barbaric smashes, as you’ll be fighting ghosts that can’t even be hit by your sword, and armored beasts and agile ogres. Pip’s light or other elements trigger weak points in the boss’ pattern, or at key times you’ll even need to throw rocks to bring their guard down. Pip also acts as a defense against opposing elements, so you may need to trigger weak points at the same time as placing the bat between you and enemy attacks. It’s a death-defying juggling act that will push you to your limit. If you’re the type that enjoys a good challenge, BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials has that in spades. Somehow with the most simple attack mechanic possible, it’s created some of the most interesting – and brutally difficult – bosses that I’ve ever seen.
It’s this multitasking focus that I think is going to divide BatBarian’s audience the most, because it can indeed be incredibly frustrating. For a lot of players just moving out of the way is enough of a challenge, but to move out of the way while also aiming a piece of fruit up at your foe – paying attention to the boss’ position, the position of their projectiles, and the position of the Barbarian all at once – may be a bit too much. This isn’t even mentioning the extra button used for a third companion you can bring along with you. It’s almost, but not quite, as bad as controlling two characters at once, and while that certainly creates a unique challenge, it’s not one that everyone is going to like.
It doesn’t help that BatBarian also includes a very wonky stat system. When you level up, a spinning wheel appears on the screen, which shifts rapidly between your three stats, and you get to roll on this wheel three times. Time it correctly and you can get exactly what you want, but if you don’t you may end up stacking more of a stat that you might feel you already have enough of. Psychologically this can be really damaging. If you’re having a hard time on a particular boss, the thought of “if my stats were more optimally spread it might not be so hard” is impossible to keep out of your head. Each of the three stats are useful for combat, but one in particular is much better for exploration reasons. Awareness does supposedly improve your recovery time if you get hit, but its main function is making the caves just a little brighter while you’re exploring, as well as improve the chances an enemy will drop a fruit or more gold. Stacking defense and attack would be a much better investment given how difficult the bosses become, but even knowing that, you might be flipping your desk in frustration when you mistakenly press the button on that accursed level up wheel a little too late. The irony is that mathematically, leveling up doesn’t make a huge difference unless you specialize. Your attack starts in the hundreds, and your defense about double that number, so the +3 each spin gives to a stat is going to be barely noticeable. In the long run this means you could potentially double your attack power, but any given level is going to provide a marginal benefit with diminishing immediate returns. You also find stat boosts through exploration which helps mitigate any disasters a pure awareness build might inflict on the player, but I can’t help but think that BatBarian would have been better off dispensing with the leveling system entirely – or at the very least just letting you pick which stats you invest in.
With all that said about stat system woes and multitasking, Any frustrations with BatBarian’s mechanics are handily mitigated by a very well thought out assist system. Rather than just having easy, normal, and hard difficulty modes, BatBarian let’s you pick and choose which elements you’d like to tweak to optimize your experience. I’m one of those people who prides himself in doing things the “intended” way, but I actually regret waiting so long to play with those assist settings in the case of this game. The one I recommend turning on immediately is the option that slows the game down while you’re aiming Pip’s fruit. This cuts back on the headache of the multitasking immensely, and I think it will make it a much more enjoyable game for most players. You can also double your attack and defense, as well as boost the effects of the awareness stat, so the assists can work as a sort of band-aid fix if you’ve gone 10 hours into the game and find out you’re taking too much damage. I personally found the double attack and defense to be especially useful in the late game when all I wanted to do was search the map for treasures I missed. As much as this game does a great job at avoiding the woes of backtracking by including numerous shortcuts and teleportation options, speeding through each room and just tanking the damage still makes things faster. BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials would be the La-Mulana of spatial reasoning puzzle games in terms of being a very narrow niche were it not for its generous assist options.
Even if you just turn on all of the game’s assist options for the “easiest” experience, there’s plenty of attractions that make BatBarian worthwhile. Puzzles still need to be solved, although tanking your way through damage can certainly let you actually brute force your way through more of them than you could otherwise. Most notably though, I think the story is worth playing the game for. Just about everything in the game has some narrative reason for being there. Studying out the notes you find and witnessing various mysteries unfold is especially fun. The game even rewards you for paying attention, like how I got to enjoy a heartwarming achievement for calling an NPC by their name. BatBarian doesn’t force its world and characters on you, but if you take the time to get to know them, they will most definitely grow on you.
BatBarian: The Testament of the Primordials is something truly unique. It’s a bold move to make action multitasking a core focus for all of the things that can go wrong, but I think BatBarian pulls it off magnificently. I do have some serious gripes about the game’s leveling system, and I think that the default game will be a little too much for many players, but a well-designed assist option menu more than makes up for those potential shortcomings. BatBarian is different enough that I can’t really guarantee it will be for you even with its options, but it’s good enough that I think you owe it to yourself to find out.
Bosses have ingeniously novel patterns creating fights like you haven't played before, although sometimes the random elements conflict with the game's multitasking focus.
Platforming is definitely more about the puzzles, but the puzzles are also more about the execution than the solution, thus you're looking at a strong dexterity challenge on a frequent basis
So many clues are baked into the game's world, so observation skills are always rewarded. The map gives you a plethora of markers that you will want to utilize
Just about every screen has a puzzle to solve. You can brute force some of it with your HP, but once that runs out you'll be scratching your head on how to get through everything unscathed.
BatBarian presents a deep and interesting world in spite of being easy to digest on a surface level thanks to its lighthearted presentation.
The pixelart is ambient and gorgeous, although the sprites can be a little small sometimes when the action gets intense.
BatBarian has a nearly perfect soundtrack that really helps checking every nook and cranny feel like a good time.
The stat system is clunky and really isn't enough of a reason to go through the game a second time, however since the game is about execution as much as it is solving puzzles, there's plenty of room for improvement on a technical level
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