Joining a seemingly never ending list of retro-inspired platform games, Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior has perhaps one of the most far-fetched premises around. You play as Cybarian, a butch barbarian from olden times who discovers the coveted Sword of Ages. Upon wielding the mighty sword, he suddenly gets magically transported way into the future where neon lights and speeding motorbikes reign supreme.
The inhabitants of this cyberpunk environment are not the most friendly of folk, so it’s up to Cybarian to make his way through four levels jam packed with pesky foes and deadly obstacles. Originally pitched as a mixture of Mega Man and Streets of Rage, Cybarian: The Time Traveling Warrior is exactly that, and it genuinely works a treat. The stage layouts are very much reminiscent of classic Mega Man games, with conveyor belts, deadly columns of fire and spring boards all part and parcel to the experience. The combat, on the other hand, is very deliberate, requiring precise timing and an essential mix of offence and defence to succeed.
If you’re one to button mash your way through action games, you’ll find the experience frustrating from the off. Cybarian’s main method of attack is a basic three hit combo, but tapping the attack button at breakneck speed simply won’t work and will result in Cybarian tripping over his own feet. Instead, you’ll need to find a specific rhythm in order to complete the combo. It can take a little while to get used to - particularly since the game gets cracking right away without even a hint of a tutorial - but once you find your rhythm, it makes for incredibly satisfying combat.
Once you get to the end of each stage, you’ll need to take down the boss waiting for you. These are really great sequences that require you to make the most of your abilities. You’ll need to dodge projectiles, keep well out of range of the boss’s reach, and even keep an eye on the environment itself, which likes to play tricks of its own. Once the boss tires itself out, you’ll be given ample opportunity to unleash a flurry of combos before it gets back up and running again.
Clearing each stage will grant Cybarian a new ability. This can be something as basic as a dodge roll (which becomes essential in the latter levels) or the ability to hurl the Sword of Ages across the screen, obliterating any enemy in its path before returning to your hand. There aren’t many levels in the game, and as such the new abilities are pretty limited in nature too, but each new stage does a great job of introducing obstacles specifically catered to utilising whichever new ability you happen to have unlocked previously.
You’ll need these abilities, too. Even on its easiest difficulty, Cybarian: The Time Traveling Warrior is rock solid, and the latter boss battles in particular will give even the most skilled of side-scrolling veterans a fair amount of grief. But there’s something about the pick-up-and-play nature of the experience that makes the temptation to have “just one more go” irresistible. That said, dying will take you right back to the beginning of the stage (unless you’re up against the boss), so it can prove to be a bit demotivating if you manage to clear the majority of the level only to be sent right back to the start.
In keeping with the theme of cyberpunk, the game displays typical retro themed graphics with blocky character models, bright pink and yellow colours, and a pretty strong scan line filter, which you can turn off if you want. The overall look of the game is pretty great (though we can certainly see how it might irk players who might be fed up with old school graphics) and it’s backed up by a great soundtrack that really suits the game’s cyberpunk setting. Considering its more than reasonable price, it's a great little package.
Cybarian: The Time Traveling Warrior isn’t a very long game by any stretch of the imagination, but when you take into consideration its low price point, it really is a no-brainer. Engaging, tough combat combined with superb retro graphics and a killer soundtrack make for an experience that fans of old school action titles will relish, if only for a short amount of time.