Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax, Commodore 64

The sequel to 1987’s cult hit Barbarian, Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax is a similar fighting game, but with more variety than the first game, and the possibility of exploring the actual world by moving from screen to screen (“wow! What a technological advancement!“). Barbarian II was first released in 1988 by Palace Software. The game was later licensed by Epyx for distribution in North America under the title of “Axe of Rage“.

You begin the game by choosing to play as either male or female, then start on the plains of the north, looking for the evil wizard Drax and his eight warriors to defeat. Each screen usually has at least one enemy on it that you must fight or run away from. Some enemies are much bigger than you and look difficult to defeat, which of course they are, but they’re not impossible.

Exploring different screens means two things: one, that you can easily get lost, and two: that you probably need a map if you’re planning to complete the game. These are the downsides to having gameplay that is open-ended and maze/exploration-based, but it at least adds variety to the game – compared to the first one.

As well as the fighting, there’s plenty of running and jumping to do. There are pits that if you fall into you’ll instantly lose a life. You can do a running jump over them, but getting the timing right is not easy. Jumping pits is a risk, but it’s one that you have to face at some point. Occasionally you’ll find skulls littered around the landscape, which you can collect for extra lives.

The main threat to you in this game, though, are the constantly spawning monsters. They can appear at any time and will bother you until you defeat them, which can take time. Multiply that with how many times you have fight a battle in Barbarian II and that’s a hell of a lot of combat. Add to that the damaging lava flows and acid pools and this all equates to a seriously hostile environment that is not easy to survive. And I haven’t even mentioned that some monsters can bite your head off with a single chomp… Death comes frequently in Barbarian II and you just have to get used to it; get better at surviving, or cheat.

On the plus side of Barbarian II: the animation of the two main characters is excellent (especially the woman), and the various monsters are somewhat quirky and imaginative, but are a slog to fight. In fact, everything in this game is a slog to fight. Even managing to chop a monster in half (in a similar way to the brutal decapitation move in the first Barbarian) there’s little joy to be had in victory…

Barbarian II is exceptionally well made and has lots of nice touches, but overall is a frustrating and difficult game to play. If the enemies had been a bit less frequent, and the layout of the levels had made a bit more sense, then it might have made for a good action/adventure. As it stands: it’s always been a ‘nearly but not quite’ kind of a game for the C64.

More: Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax on Wikipedia
More: Barbarian II on CSDb

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