‘Conan the Barbarian takes a trip to the future’ is probably the best way to describe Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior. In this homage to classic arcade, you’re playing as an unnamed warrior who has just discovered the Sword of Ages. Unfortunately, the sword is more trouble than it’s worth as it ends up teleporting our hero through space and time. Now, it’s up to you to fight through the seedy underworld of the futuristic city our unlucky barbarian finds himself in.
The retro graphics and chiptune soundtrack certainly look the part. There’s even an option in the settings which will emulate an old TV with its fuzzy graphics and scan-lines. Whilst I didn’t play with this on for too long, one could certainly see how this would evoke a nice sense of nostalgia. The game also borrows from an arcade classic as well. See, Cybarian plays out Streets of Rage-style where you’ll have to defeat every enemy on screen before being pushed to the next slide.
As well as looking like something straight out of the early ’90s, Cybarian plays like it too. Unfortunately that’s not necessarily a good thing. It throws up all manner of problems that drag the game down. Perhaps the biggest is the fact that the combat is very basic. So very, very basic. You only get one attack and you can chain it together up to three times. You’ll get two new moves on your adventure – combat roll and sword throw – but they don’t add much depth and are unlocked far too late. You’ll get the sword throw from level three onwards. There’s only four levels by the way.
And you’ll find that this already basic system tends to be clunky as well; so much so that it can be frustratingly hard to land a successful three hit combo. Pressing the button too early or too late will stun you and leave you open to an unavoidable attack. Enemies also recover far quicker from attacks than they should. After hitting your combo, you’ll find yourself open to attack immediately and you’ll have to combat roll out of the way. Unless you know this beforehand, you’ll be losing hearts left, right and centre.
There are also issues with the enemies themselves. At the risk of sounding like Gordon Ramsay, they’re just bland. Some might shoot bombs, some might fire bullets and some might rush you, but they are all beaten in the same way. Just run at them and hit out a set number of times. Rinse and repeat for four levels. All that really differs is how many hits it takes to kill them, and so there’s no real challenge. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the very limited combat system.
Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior is also very short, taking just a few hours to fully complete. Now this wouldn’t be such an issue if there was an element of replay value present. But there just isn’t. The game gives you no incentive to play through again, even on a harder difficulty. In fact, the only noticeable change between difficulties is that the amount of health you get is lowered and hearts cost more from vending machines. Anything substantial would have perhaps warranted another playthrough: new moves, more difficult enemies. Hell, even an achievement for finishing on the highest difficulty would be great.
There are issues with the platforming too, the most notable of which are the various death-loops found throughout the game. Too often I fell into a flame pit only to be unable to free myself because I could not jump high enough to reach a platform. I just had to sit there and wait until I’d lost all my hearts. The fact that the levels lack checkpoints only serves to make this more annoying. Nevertheless, Cybarian does manage to get its platforming right most of the time. There’s all manner of floating and disappearing platforms, spike pits and flame-walls that need to be navigated, often all at once. Certainly, these pose more of a challenge than the enemies that litter the levels.
But where the game really excels is in the boss battles. They mark a much-needed change from the usual proceedings in that they provide some real entertainment and a proper challenge. There are a whole host of attacks you’ll need to avoid, and whilst they do follow the same sequence every time, it’ll still take some time to figure them out. There can be very little margin for error and it is very easy to die here. Most importantly, it’s not a gimme like the combat found elsewhere. They are a real challenge and the game benefits because of this. Indeed, the whole of stage four is one giant boss fight against some kind of demon-spawn and it’s no coincidence that it’s the best level in the game.
For all the good and bad, if you so happen to be an achievement hunter, then I’d wholly recommend Cybarian. The Gamerscore comes thick and fast, and full completion only takes around 90 minutes. You don’t even need to finish the game. Of course, you’d expect nothing less from a Ratalaika Games title as they have developed a reputation for releasing some of the quickest completions around.
Unfortunately I cannot say the same for everyone else. It’s a real shame because there is certainly potential here. The graphics and soundtrack are executed well, as is the platforming (most of the time), meanwhile, the boss battles are entertaining and refreshing. But Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior on Xbox One is let down by a limited combat system and the knock-on effect that has on enemies. The short run time also means the game never gets going and there is no element of replay value to speak of. The end result is a game that is rather frustrating at times and ultimately nothing special.