Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax

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For the 1991 Psygnosis game, see Barbarian II.
Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax
A large, scaly, horned creature lies fallen on a cracked floor.  A busty woman, wearing a metallic bikini and brandishing a sword, stands on its arm.  A man, wearing a loincloth, squats astride the corpse while leaning on his battle axe.  The words "Barbarian II" are emblazoned at the top in a banner.
Commodore 64 box art, featuring Maria Whittaker and Michael Van Wijk
Developer(s) Palace Software
Publisher(s) Palace Software (Europe), Epyx (North America)
Platform(s) Acorn Electron, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, MSX, ZX Spectrum
Release date(s) 1988
Genre(s) Fighting game
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution Floppy disk, Compact Cassette

Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax is a video game first published in 1988 for various home computers. It was also released as Axe of Rage in North America. The game is the sequel to Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (Death Sword in North America), which was published in 1987. In Barbarian II, the player controls a princess or barbarian character, exploring the game world to locate and defeat an evil wizard. The game's plot is an extension of its predecessor, although the gameplay is different. While the first game offers two players the opportunity for virtual head-to-head combat, the second is solely a single-player adventure with fewer fighting moves.

Palace Software, the developer of the two Barbarian games, marketed the sequel with the same strategy they used for the first game. They hired Maria Whittaker, a model known for her topless work, to pose on the cover and posters as the princess in the game, attempting to recapture the controversy that had boosted sales. Barbarian II received a mixed critical reception. Reviewers were split in their opinions over whether the game was a refreshing and gory adventure, or a boring and lonely sojourn through a confusing digital world.

Gameplay[edit]

A digital representation of a barbarian, wearing only a loincloth, holds his axe at the ready as a big humanoid monster kicks at him.  On the top left and right corners of the screen are gauges that depict the lives of the combatants.  The word "Barbarian II" lies in the top centre with five globes under it.  The player's score is displayed in the lower right corner.  The lower centre of the screen depicts a sword that acts as a compass.  The lower left panel shows items collected by the player character.
Barbarian II adopted an adventure format in which the protagonist explores locales to reach his goal, fighting monsters in his way.

Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax is an action video game released in 1988 for various personal computer platforms, such as Commodore 64 and MS-DOS. It is the sequel to Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (released in 1987), which offers swordfighting action to one or two players. Unlike its predecessor, Barbarian II features only a single-player mode, in which the player assumes the role of either sword-wielding Princess Mariana or the titular savage, who is armed with a battleaxe.[1] Their common quest is to pursue the evil wizard Drax, who has fled to his dungeon hideout after his defeat in the first game. The player characters battle their way through an inhospitable wasteland, a system of caves, and a dungeon before facing Drax in his inner sanctum for a showdown.[2]

Using a joystick or keyboard, the player moves his or her character through Barbarian II's world. Each of the four stages—wasteland, caves, dungeon, and inner sanctum—is a series of interconnected rooms, populated by monsters, traps, and items.[2] The game displays one room at a time in a flick-screen manner: as the protagonist leaves a room, the screen is updated to display the next.[3] The connections among rooms are disjointed: the exit on the left of one room might be connected to the entrance on the same side of another.[4] A compass at the bottom of the interface serves as a directional guide, always pointing to the north.[5] The player directs his or her player through the rooms, seeking the exit to the next stage while avoiding traps and collecting items.[1]

The protagonist is also challenged in his or her quest by 20 types of creatures.[6] By moving the joystick while pressing its button or by performing the equivalent keyboard commands, the player defends the protagonist with four styles of attacks: a low slash, a high chop, a kick, and a spinning neck chop. The life of the combatants are represented by gauges at the top corners of the screen. Successful attacks on a character reduce its gauge and the character is killed when its life is reduced to zero.[2] A well-timed neck chop (or the bites of certain monsters) decapitates the opponent, killing it instantly.[7] Monsters disappear in a puff of smoke when killed, reappearing with a full life gauge in the same room some time later.[4] Although the player character likewise reappears fully rejuvenated in the room after being killed, he or she can only do so for a limited number of times. This limit (number of lives) is represented in the form of globes at the top centre of the screen.[1] The protagonist increases his or her number of lives by collecting skulls that are scattered throughout the game world.[8]

Development[edit]

Barbarian II's predecessor, Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior, was a critical and commercial success on its release in 1987. Reviewers enjoyed the game's exciting sword fights, and its profile was greatly enhanced by marketing strategies employed by its developer, Palace Software, a subsidiary of media company Palace Group. The developer had engaged Maria Whittaker, a model known for topless shoots, to pose on the box covers and posters of the game. The image of bikini-clad Whittaker created a hype that pushed the game beyond the attention of the video game industry, producing a controversy in which members of the public criticised the industry for promoting Barbarian in a sexist manner.[4][9]

Palace Software repeated the strategy for the sequel,[4] publishing a poster of Whittaker as Princess Mariana, this time in metal bikini armour, and Michael Van Wijk as the barbarian.[10] Steve Brown, creator of the Barbarian games, recalled that the bikini's chain "snapped a number of times" in comical Carry On fashion during the shoot.[9] Brown was behind the concept of the poster, which was brought to fruition by Lee Gibbons, a commercial artist, over the course of four weeks. The image of the barbarian and princess poised over the fallen body of a large, scaly monster was a photomontage, created by superimposing three photographs—one of each subject—on one another. The creature was a small scale model made of Plasticine. After cutting out the subjects from their photos and composing the cut-outs to form a new scene, Gibbons painted the background and added effects such as smoke to form the final image.[6]

Nine photographs, arranged in 3 rows of 3, show the sequence of a man's jump over a hurdle. The first photo at the top left shows the man in front of hurdle with his right leg raised.  As he propels himself over the hurdle, he pulls his trailing left leg up and in front of him while pushing his arms to the back.  The last three photos show him as he clears the hurdle and lands on both feet.
The movements of Barbarian II's characters were copied from Eadweard Muybridge's work, similar to his sequence of a man's jump over a hurdle.

Brown had filmed swordfights and used the tracings of the combatants' movements to produce the animations in Barbarian. For the animations in the sequel, he turned to the works of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who made a name for himself through his series of photographs of animals and humans captured in motion. The movements of Barbarian II's characters were based on the pictures in Muybridge's book Human in Motion,[11] which was published in 1901.[12] The resulting animation was judged very realistic and detailed by several reviewers.[1][8][13][14]

First released in August 1988 for the Commodore 64, Barbarian II was ported to various personal computers. The various versions differed in features, depending on specifications of the platforms.[7] The Amiga version of the game was given several improvements. It has digitized speech and better graphics in the form of greater details and number of colours. The introductory and disc loading sequences were revamped, featuring animated skeletons with maniacal voices.[15] In contrast, the ZX Spectrum version has monochromatic graphics;[13] the first level comprises black-outlined sprites against pink backgrounds.[16]

As with its predecessor, Barbarian II was licensed to Epyx for release in North America. The game was published there under the title Axe of Rage and included a tattoo in its packaging.[2] The North American version featured a different cover art, showing the close-up visage of "a screaming berserker with homicidal tendencies".[17] Dragon magazine's reviewers found the cover ugly,[2] and according to Computer Gaming World, a Canadian wholesaler refused to sell Axe of Rage because it considered the game's box cover art crass enough to offend customers.[17][18] Similarly, in the United Kingdom, pharmacy chain Boots banned displays of Barbarian II, featuring Whittaker, from their stores.[19]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Review scores
Publication Score
Computer and Video Games 9/10[23]
Crash 81%[21]
Sinclair User 69%[22]
Your Sinclair 6/10[20]
Zzap!64 96%[25]
ACE 754[24]
Awards
Publication Award
Zzap!64 Gold Medal

Barbarian II received praise for its audio, mostly for the versions on more powerful platforms. Reviewers of The Games Machine pointed out that the "most remarkable feature of the ST version is its crystal clear sampled effects".[26] Zzap!64's staff and Computer and Video Games's Julian Rignall were impressed with the digital thuds and whacks produced on the Commodore 64, and particularly the rendition of a certain monster's laughter.[1][14] Mike Pattenden of CU Amiga claimed the "manic clucking of the mutant chicken would be enough to send [the player] running in the opposite direction".[15] Although rating the audio-visual components of the Amiga version on par with that for the Atari ST, Pattenden and reviewers from The Game Machine felt the flashy introductory sequence on the Amiga made it stand out;[15][26] Tony Horgan of Amiga User International called it the best introduction he has seen in Amiga games.[4]

Although reviewers were less than impressed with the graphics on lower-end systems such as the ZX Spectrum,[13][16] the colours and large detailed sprites on the higher-end platforms won their acclaim. The animation of the characters also captured their attention. Tommy Nash of Your Sinclair hailed it as "first class",[5] while Paul Glancey of Zzap!64 called the sprites "beautifully defined" and "realistically animated".[14] Similar accolades were given by other reviewers.[1][8][14][27] The staff of The Games Machine were "constantly [amazed]" at the designs of the monsters in the game.[7]

Several reviewers had a common complaint about the game. As the difference between executing an attack and a movement was the pressing of the joystick button, they were irked to find their characters frequently switching directions instead of attacking with a low slash.[3][8][16] Their frustration was increased when the protagonist took damage from enemy attacks as he or she executes the unintentional command to change facing.[16] Chris Jenkins, however, praised the game for responsive joystick controls in his review for Sinclair User.[28] Paul Lakin of Zero pointed out that the flick-screen presentation could lead to confusing situations in combat as the protagonist retreats across an exit and appears at the other end of the screen.[29] Horgan had another grouse with the combat, moaning the loss of simplicity from the Barbarian series. According to him, while players could enjoy the first Barbarian game without much effort, intense practise was needed to defeat the monsters in the second game.[4]

The change in combat systems was not the only difference between Barbarian II and its predecessor that influenced reviewers' opinions about the sequel. The first Barbarian game was enjoyed by reviewers for providing exciting head-to-head action between two players. Barbarian II abandoned this, setting up an adventuring experience for the single player. Jim Douglas, reviewing for Sinclair User, doubted that players who were looking for quick action would appreciate plotting a path through the maze to reach the final goal.[16] Your Sinclair's Marcus Berkmann felt the two genres—slash 'em up and arcade adventure—were "fundamentally incompatible", agreeing with Douglas that the maze was a distraction.[30] Crash's reviewers, however, felt the combination of genres made the game interesting.[13] James Price wrote in Amiga Force that the adventuring element and unending number of enemies made Barbarian II a far better game than the first,[31] while The Games Machine's staff said the expanded menagerie of foes adequately made up for a reduction in combat moves.[7]

In their review for Dragon magazine, the Lessers called Axe of Rage "an engrossing slash 'n hack that'll please most arcaders."[2] Zzap!64's reviewers were unanimous in recommending Barbarian II to their readers;[14] however, two years later in a re-review, the magazine's staff said the game has aged badly, finding the gameplay "lot more crude and clichéd" and of dubious replay value.[3] Martyn Carroll concurred in his article for Retro Gamer, 17 years after the game's release, calling Barbarian II "hugely disappointing" for "[messing] up almost everything that was great about the first game."[9] Brown and Palace Software's co-founder Richard Leinfellner admitted as much; they said they had mixed feelings about Barbarian II, thinking the idea of a simple fun game was lost by stuffing too many features into it.[32]

When Barbarian II was released, Palace Software went ahead with plans for Barbarian III. For two years, the third game in the series was publicised in gaming magazines. Your Sinclair held a contest for its readers, asking them to submit concepts of gruesome monsters. The winning entry would be implemented in Barbarian III. The Barbarian series of games were, however, brought to a halt in 1991 when Palace Group sold its software subsidiary to fund its expansion into the movie industry. Titus Software bought Palace Software and after reviewing its holdings, cancelled several of its new acquisition's projects, including Barbarian III.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Rignall, Julian (August 1988). "Reviews—Barbarian II". Computer and Video Games (London, United Kingdom: Dennis Publishing) (82): 46–48. ISSN 0261-3697. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (October 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (Wisconsin, United States: TSR) 14 (150): 68–69. ISSN 0279-6848. 
  3. ^ a b c Zzap!64 staff (November 1990). "Budget!". Zzap!64 (Shropshire, United Kingdom: Newsfield Publications) (67): 38. ISSN 0954-867X. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Horgan, Tony (October 1989). "Barbarian". Amiga User International (United Kingdom: Croftward) 3 (10): 42–43. ISSN 0955-1077. 
  5. ^ a b Nash, Tommy (August 1988). "YS Megapreview—Barbarian II". Your Sinclair (London, United Kingdom: Dennis Publishing) (32): 18–19. ISSN 0269-6983. 
  6. ^ a b Boughton, Paul (July 1988). "The Axe Man Cometh". Computer and Video Games (London, United Kingdom: Dennis Publishing) (81): 100–101. ISSN 0261-3697. 
  7. ^ a b c d Wild, Nik; Hogg, Robin; Eddy, Richard; Rothwell, Mark; Candy, Robin (August 1988). "Off with His/Her Head". The Games Machine (Shropshire, United Kingdom: Newsfield Publications) (9): 56. ISSN 0954-8092. 
  8. ^ a b c d Jarratt, Steve (August 1988). "Screen Scene—Barbarian II The Dungeon of Drax". Commodore User (London, United Kingdom: EMAP): 24–25. ISSN 0265-721X. 
  9. ^ a b c d Carroll, Martyn (30 March 2006). "Company Profile: Palace Software". Retro Gamer (Bournemouth, United Kingdom: Imagine Publishing) (23): 66–69. ISSN 1742-3155. 
  10. ^ Sinclair User staff (July 1988). "True Stories". Sinclair User (London, United Kingdom: EMAP) (76): 25. ISSN 0262-5458. 
  11. ^ Amstrad Cent Pour Cent staff (July–August 1988). "Et Steve Brown créa Barbarian" [And Steve Brown created Barbarian]. Amstrad Cent Pour Cent (in French) (Paris, France: Media Publishing System): 6–7. ISSN 0988-8160. 
  12. ^ Hill, Marta (2004). "Animal Locomotion". In Herbert, Stephen. Eadweard Muybridge: The Kingston Museum Bequest. East Sussex, United Kingdom: The Projection Box. p. 33. ISBN 1-903000-07-6. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  13. ^ a b c d Caswell, Mark; Roberts, Nick; King, Philip (January 1989). "Reviews—Barbarian II". Crash (Ludlow, United Kingdom: Newsfield Publications) (60): 19. ISSN 0954-8661. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Glancey, Paul; Houghton, Gordon; Sumner, Paul (August 1988). "Test—Barbarian II—The Dungeon of Drax". Zzap!64 (Shropshire, United Kingdom: Newsfield Publications) (40): 14–15. ISSN 0954-867X. 
  15. ^ a b c Pattenden, Mike (August 1989). "Barbarian II". CU Amiga (London, United Kingdom: EMAP): 50–51. ISSN 0963-0090. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Douglas, Jim (December 1988). "Games Review—Barbarian II". Sinclair User (London, United Kingdom: EMAP) (81): 26. ISSN 0262-5458. 
  17. ^ a b Fitzmorris, Garth (June 1989). "The Rumor Bag". Computer Gaming World (California, United States: Golden Empire Publications) (60): 40. ISSN 0744-6667. 
  18. ^ Computer Gaming World staff (July 1989). "Taking a Peep". Computer Gaming World (California, United States: Golden Empire Publications) (61): 6. ISSN 0744-6667. 
  19. ^ Commodore Computing International staff (August 1988). "Previews—Barbarian II". Commodore Computing International (United Kingdom: Croftward) 7 (1): 88. ISSN 0265-475X. 
  20. ^ "Barbarian II". Ysrnry.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  21. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  22. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  23. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  24. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  25. ^ "Zzap!64 100th Issue Pull-Out Special Page 5". Zzap64.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  26. ^ a b The Games Machine staff (April 1989). "Version Update—Barbarian II". The Games Machine (Shropshire, United Kingdom: Newsfield Publications) (17): 45. ISSN 0954-8092. 
  27. ^ Roberts, Nick (December 1990). "Reviews—Barbarian II". Crash (Ludlow, United Kingdom: Newsfield Publications) (53): 19. ISSN 0954-8661. 
  28. ^ Jenkins, Chris (November 1990). "Review—Barbarian II". Sinclair User (London, United Kingdom: EMAP) (105): 60–61. ISSN 0262-5458. 
  29. ^ Lakin, Paul (February 1990). "Déjà Vu". Zero (London, United Kingdom: Dennis Publishing) (4): 72. ISSN 0957-9303. 
  30. ^ Berkmann, Marcus (January 1989). "YS Megapreview—Barbarian II". Your Sinclair (London, United Kingdom: Dennis Publishing) (37): 49. ISSN 0269-6983. 
  31. ^ Price, James (May 1993). "Feature". Amiga Force (United Kingdom: Europress Impact) (5): 16. ISSN 0967-702X. 
  32. ^ Russell, Jamie (October 2010). "The Making of ... Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior". Edge (Bath, United Kingdom: Future Publishing) (221): 106–109. ISSN 1350-1593.