The Awesome Fighting Game That Let You Cut Other Player's Heads Off

You can keep Street Fighter, Tekken, King of Fighters and Dead or Alive. My favourite fighting game pre-dates every single one of them, starred large men in furry underpants, and rather than lasting minutes could, if you knew your moves, be over in seconds.

Because you weren't using fists. You were using giant swords.

Sure, Soulcalibur uses swords, but does it really? Play a round of Soulcalibur and swords are used little differently than any other weapon (or appendage) in a fighting game. You swing them, and if you hit, you take a little bit of damage off.

Barbarian, 2D fighting game released in 1987 by Palace (and known as Death Sword in the US), used swords properly. Players began a round with "life points", which like any other game in the genre, degrade over the course of a battle with each hit.

But where Barbarian got awesome was that if you timed a swing just right, you wouldn't clash swords or scrape a shoulder. You'd cut your opponent's head off, ending the match instantly. Brutal, perhaps, and maybe even a little unfair, but that's how swordfights go, so it was great at the time seeing a game actually take that into account.

The instant brutality of a decapitation was only part of Barbarian's appeal, though. It had amazing cover art featuring live models, one of whom would later appear as Wolf on Britain's version of Gladiators, the other a topless model in the UK (and which led to protests in Britain, giving the game some free PR). It was based almost entirely on the works of Robert E Howard (Conan) and Frank Frazetta.

It even boasted pioneering visuals. Rather than simply animating sprites, Barbarian's creator Steve Brown picked up a real sword, went outside, dreamed up 15 individual attacks, copied one more straight from the second Conan movie, then had himself filmed performing them. Palace's artists then copied pixels over stills from the footage, making the game's animation one of the most impressive examples of the decade.

Barbarian was a hit, and from its original C64 version would go on to be ported to just about every home computer system available in the late 1980s. A year later Palace released a sequel, Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax, which was nowhere near as good because, while retaining the cover models, ditched the 1v1 fighting for a side-scrolling adventure.


Comments

    This article brought back memories. The troll kicking the head off! awesome

    I still have a copy of this with my C64! Loved this game so much!

    Ahh the Web of Death move - Loved this on the Amstrad.

    Mmm, don't make em like they used to.

    It's awesome.
    I always thought of Moonstones' practice match as (Super Hyper Turbo Challenge Edition) Barbarian.

      Ah, Moonstone, that's the game I was trying to think of... loved that game. I miss those innocent and more care-free days of video games :(

      I fired up moonstone the other day! Fantastic game and one of my all time favourites :) if you've never played it i highly recommend it, it has aged surprisingly well.

    Oh man. So many memories just flooded back right then.
    This game was all kinds of awesome at the time.

    Barbarian was made of awesome even if the kick/roll/behead was the key to winning every fight.

    Bushido Blade also did a pretty good job with sword combat, fights in that could realistically be over in a few seconds too. The more open nature of the environments also gave you the ability to make your own fun, a friend & I spent an hour one day playing chasies & tagging each other with fatal sword blows

      We did that a fair bit.
      We also spent a lot of time doing quickdraws with characters with fatal throwing weapons.

    I just remember the box art... don't see that kind of art on game covers anymore :/

    Never got the hang of Barbarian (or maybe I had 2)
    Really enjoyed Bushido Blade 1 and 2 though for similar fight winning moves (minus the decapitation)

    Take a half step forward then press back and fire at the same time - for at least the first few rounds this was an almost guaranteed head chop. I finished this game about 30 times and lost at least 3,000 times more and loved every second of it.

    Wow.. this is kind of like a very crude version of Time Killers! I'm gonna have to load that sucker up when I get home and have a bash! Such fond memories!

    This game was awesome, but the fighting game I spent far too much time on was International Karate on Amiga. Never did make it to black belt.

    Oh yeah, I have fond memories of trying to show my Grandfather Barbarian, I had a cracked copy and it would crash 9/10 times when loading or after one or two fights. I persisted just to see that decapitation animation. I think I would have only been about 9 or 10.

    I wasn't "if you timed a swing just right" is was just "holding back and pressing the sword attack button"
    It was hard to pull off as the animation was long and you could be hit in the lead-up to the 'decapitation' part.
    I remember 2 play battles being fun, but you could spam the 'kick' button when against the computer and basically just kick them to death in the corner of the screen.

    Great game - the game Gladiator from around that time on the ZX Spectrum also had bleeding damage from edge weapons where you continued to lost health if you were badly hit. Kinda annoys me that the current blade games don't actually cut anything...

    Recently captured the beheading for my doco on you tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B95IdMJGDKg) if you're interested...

    wonder if someone could mod luke into this so we can repeatedly decapitate him, then someone can make a dubstep remix of it

    Ah, classic game. Had it on my C64. Good times!

    Best thing about this game? The little goblin that would come to take the head away, giving it the occasional kick

    I remember this game very well, then one day whilst watching Red Sonja I recognised the sound samples that were used in the game. Now every time I dig out Red Sonja for a viewing I can't but help have flashbacks to lopping my friends barbarian head off (in game of course). Ahhh memories.

    Fire button+Left

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