Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials is an action adventure game very similar to those of the Metroidvania genre, but the game does something different and puzzles its players in unique and interesting ways.
This is a game where your sidekick, a bat named Pip, is not just there for moral support. Pip is essential and a key to everything happening in the game. It is a mechanic I cannot say I have experienced before, and it was something that took me by complete surprise.
But does Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials hang with the best of them? Or does this bat suck? Let’s find out!
Initially, we are found with our chosen hero crashing face first into an abyss unlike any other. Your lovely little luminescent bat, Pip, lights the way in this dank and ill-lit place, and the two of you begin your journey into the unknown. Things may feel familiar to fans of Metroidvanias, as the map in the top corner lets us know where we are going and where we have been. It was at this moment that I knew I was going to enjoy this one.
This game takes some getting used to from the get-go, and it has everything to do with manipulating Pip to help you solve puzzles. You see, Pip reacts differently depending on what fruit you throw. You initially have Light Berries (Pip’s favorite treat and an unlimited amount) that guide the bat in a direction you so choose. This can be to simply go somewhere the Barbarian is incapable of going or light a lamp to reveal a platform to jump on.
As you progress, new fruits will be introduced, and each fruit does something different, resulting in more complex and intuitive puzzles, especially after Pip gains elemental abilities. Learning what combination of abilities to use and in what order is key to solving many of Batbarian‘s puzzles, and trust me, some of these puzzles are truly challenging in a new and intriguing way.
The Barbarian is capable and has their own abilities and attacks, but these are simple and minimal. The Barbarian can basically attack horizontally, jump (Sorry, no double jumps), dash, and throw rocks/berries, and that is about the extent of their ability. This is such a great approach, because giving the Barbarian too much power would undermine the cornerstone of the game, which is Pip. Giving Pip the greater upgrades and abilities means you are more dependent on your bat than you are your avatar.
This even extends into the story. The Barbarian is nameless, stupid, loud, and uncouth. They are constantly interrupting what is actually happening and serving more of a comedy roll than a main protagonist. Interestingly, the story still centers on Pip, as it guides the Barbarian through the caves and ruins by instinct as we learn more about this luminescent friend of yours.
Throughout the game, you will encounter a wily cast of characters, even a couple that tag alongside you on your journey to serve as companions. The more of them you run into, the more dialog options you are presented and the more you learn about the lore of these ancient ruins and what they produced. There is genuinely some great storytelling within these discussions, so I highly advice paying attention to what is being said and read.
The script for the game is genuinely funny most of the time, too. I love the optional responses you are given and how the NPCs respond to you based on your choices. Not only that, but even when you die, the characters break the fourth wall and have a conclusive conversation about how the story ends at this spot. These death dialogs differ depending on the situation, and they are properly entertaining every time. It even made some frustrating deaths less so, because I ended up laughing instead of venting.
The map is pretty massive, as is standard fair for Metroidvania games. There are over 400 rooms to explore and each new area is color-coded to make searching the map even easier. One thing I really appreciate is the ability to place markers on the map, and the different icon options are helpful. For example, you can put skull icons on boss rooms or question marks on puzzle rooms you cannot figure out, and this made backtracking a lot more fluid.
Campsites are spread across the map and serve as save points, but Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials also uses a checkpoint system that helps to better assist while traversing through difficult areas. If you die, you are even given the option to restart from the checkpoint or restart from the last campsite you saved at. This setup is especially helpful if you become overly ambitious and end up stuck in an area way too difficult for you.
And difficulty is something we need to talk about, because Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials is hard. Some times it is difficult for the right reasons, and other times it is difficult for the wrong reasons.
As I already mentioned, some of the puzzles in the game are quite challenging thanks to the complexity of Pip’s unique abilities combined with aiming the right fruits with the Barbarian. A lot of the combat requires some of the same tactical approaches, and learning which elements and fruits to use in gauntlets, mini-boss fights, and boss fights is a puzzle in and of itself and a challenge that I wholly welcome.
However, there are moments when RNG is simply not your friend, and it is extremely difficult to pay attention to all of the little things coming at you while you are aiming your throws and attempting to attack as the Barbarian all at the same time. This is particularly annoying in a couple of the boss fights where it feels like no matter how well-prepared you are, you will still die due to unfair and unpredictable RNG.
Thankfully, the game does offer assists in the options menu which can grant things like health regeneration, slow motion aiming, boosted attack and defense, and double items from pickups, among others. This makes Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials much more accessible for players that are not as adept in action platformers. I do recommend playing the game without the assists, as it is the normal experience, but if you are having trouble, the options are there.
Upon defeating bosses, you will be granted an item that earns you an extra heart of health, and some bosses even reward one of Pip’s upgrades. Other items are either hidden around the massive map, or you can purchase them from the bizarre merchant. You also gain experience from defeating enemies and bosses, and each time you level up, you get the chance to increase Strength, Defense, or Awareness at random thanks to gameshow wheel presented to you.
Most of the items and upgrades found in Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials are optional and are not required for the end game, but they are highly advised if you are in need of beefing up your character, even if the challenge is frustrating. Pure Gems are an item scattered around that serve no immediate purpose, but if you collect enough of them, there is a companion you can give them to that will reward you handsomely with helpful items.
Completionists will enjoy a large map with plenty of loot to find, and I can only imagine what the speedrunning community will do with this game. There are a few optional bosses that can be skipped and some areas that do not need to be accessed in order to finish the game.
One of the cool things about Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials is that there are multiple endings depending on the choices and actions, so in lovely Metroid-fashion, doing the bare minimum will result in the lame ending and 100%ing the game will be the best ending, right? Well, kind of. This game is about decision-making, and the actions to take and the way to speak to other characters will dictate how the game ends.
One last thing to touch up on is the audio, and I saved this for last for a reason. As much as I enjoyed the game itself, the soundtrack is on a different level. Each area’s music feels like it belongs, and the atmosphere of an area changes because of how well written the music is. Whether it is the subtle exploratory sounds of the Fairly Creepy Cave, the base-heavy jams of the Forlorn Ruins, or the upbeat jigs of the Merchant, everywhere in Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials is musically excellent.
This is a massive game that is not asking for a whole lot when it comes to price. For $20, you are getting a humongous map to explore, more than ten bosses to find and defeat, secrets and challenges everywhere, and roughly 20 hours of solid gameplay, even more if you are a completionist. It is expected for Metroidvania games to offer so much, but Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials delivers an experience unlike any other and does so by making a glow-in-the-dark bat the hero we all desperately need in 2020.
Batbarian: Testament of the Primordials Review provided by NintendoLink
Review also available on OpenCritic
Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment
Developer: Unspeakable Pixels
Release Date: October 15, 2020
Price: $19.99, £15.09, €16.79
Game Size: 404 MB
Excellent bat gimmick that works really well
Deep story and great comedy
Unique puzzles and gameplay
Boss RNG can be unforgiving at times
A bit too dark in handheld mode
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.