Awesome Fighting Game Let You Cut Other Player’s Heads Off

Awesome Fighting Game Let You Cut Other Player’s Heads Off
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

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, a 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 (as you can see in the battle below). 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.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends. You can find more stories like this one here. This post originally appeared on March 21, 2012.


  • Thats something i loved about the “Deadliest Warrior” games, the whole real damage thing, and bushido’s blade on teh PSX 😀

  • Game was amazing, but get super tough as you progressed, CPU really seemed to know what move you were about to do.

  • Played that game to death. That and Moonstone: Hard days Knight. Now that was a tops hack and slash.

  • Classic game. Much more deliberate compared to the hectic pace of modern fighting games

  • And after you chop off the head, a little green goblin or something would come out and kick the head off screen and drag the body away… brilliant

  • Man, I loved this game! This brings back a lot of old memories. The thudd of the head hitting the ground – perfect.

  • Fun factoid: the voice samples (“ee-yick!” “hee-arrrgh!” etc.) were lifted from the movie Red Sonja.

  • It also caused what may have been gaming’s first outrage and was nearly refused classification in the UK because decapitation wasn’t allowed to be depicted…

    God I feel old.

  • I wonder who came up with the rotoscoping idea first, Steve Brown or Jordan Mechner?

  • One of my favorite games of all time. I still have it, the box and the poster that comes with it are fucking awesome. It’s a great simple fighting game that can become very tactical and competitive with friends, was going to do a retro review video about it at some stage – thanks for reminding me!

    EDIT: forgot to mention, some of the best music in a C64 game going around. There’s a full orchestral cover of it floating around somewhere on YouTube!

  • I loved the C64.

    A few favourite games were.

    Street rod
    Last ninja
    Aztec challenge
    Exploding fist
    International karate
    Ghost busters
    Montezuma’s revenge

    Just to name a few lol

    • Aztec Challenges first stage was crushing but I loved it. The music building as you got closer to the pyramid, the piercing sound of the spears, jumping when you should have ducked – dammit speared in the ankle again! Back to the start! Kinda went downhill after that tho.

      Manfred Trenz’s Turrican2 on the C64 was a technological masterpiece however.

  • Aaaah nostalgia! How good is it? C64 will forever be the best gaming machine ever. Barbarian, f14 Tomcat, Monty on the run, yee-ar kung-fu, Defender of the Crown…thanks ACU 😉

  • The trick was spamming the head chop move, twirling about the stage until you lined up the other player just right. Ah good times.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!