Have You Played… Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

It was all about the lizard kicking that head across the screen.

For all those who worry about violence in games influencing children, I played Barbarian an enormous amount when I was 10, and I’ve never once swung a sword around my shoulders to chop off a man’s head, then merrily watched as a sentient lizard kicked it across the ground. Not even a bit!

Now, this isn’t Psygnosis’s Barbarian, the side-scrolling platformer. This is Palace Software’s single-screen fighting game, released in the US as the infinitely better “Death Sword”. DEATH SWORD! Why wasn’t it just called Death Sword everywhere?!

The amazing discoveries just keep on coming. The Barbarian dude on the box cover? That guy went on to be the prize idiot Wolf on Gladiators!

And yes, it had all that awful nudey advertising and page 3 models everywhere, and I’ll not pretend that 10 year old me wasn’t bemused and fascinated by those being plastered all over gaming magazines. But what I most remember is the way that lizard would kick the head. Oh, and copying the hilariously bad grunty noises.

I played it on Atari ST, so that’s the only correct version of the graphics as far as I’m concerned. It looked like this (1.00 for the lizard):


  1. BooleanBob says:

    My boss once worked at the Tesco’s in Burton, which was opened by Wolf at the height of his fame. He actually had lunch with him in the staff canteen.

    Said he was a very humble, pleasant chap, not at all like his on-screen persona. Also that he was much smaller than he looked on TV.

  2. wilfster70 says:

    I remember this for two reasons:
    – the endless attempts to do the twirly, chop their head off technique that always got me killed against the CPU
    – the poster with the page three model (Maria Whittaker?) that was everywhere for a while
    The lizard was always funny too :)

    • Gorrister says:


    • Loopy says:

      Yup Maria Whittaker… those were the days! Fun game too. ;)

    • moriarty70 says:

      Didn’t anyone load a two player game and not move for a while? They’d both look at the screen and say “C’mon”. Made both myself and my parents laugh our asses off.

  3. klops says:

    Yes I have played it and yes it was all about the green dude kicking the head! Although in C64 there was no forest or bronze skinned enemies – only their shirt colour changed. Never could beat the magicaball throwing wizard, though.

    I also played this around the age of 7-10 and Moonstone couple years later and turned out fine.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      The original Nidhogg! I saw my brother play this on the C64, and I was like 5 years old, I barely remember it. I don’t think my father would have been OK with me watching it, but my brother would always sneak me around to do ‘forbidden’ things. I remember the main screen, and some kind of silly tryhard somber music.

      Now I destroy planets for a living, so the media was right.

    • AshkEl says:

      Oh my goodness, Moonstone, now there’s a game which deserves either a ‘have you played’ or maybe a full on modern re-imagined version, or both.

  4. tomimt says:

    I used to play this on Amstrad CPC 464. Good times. Just like with everyone else, my go to move was the head chop, because of the frogman and the delicious kick of the head.

    The animations were also fantastic for the time.

  5. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    Played it to death on ZX Spectrum. It actually had an ending where you would decapitate some wizard and rescue the girl if I remember well.

    There was also a sequel, but it was more of a side scroller, and it had some pretty impressive animations.

    • mejoff says:

      And dinosaurs who bit off your head!

      • Kingseeker Camargo says:

        Right! And you could even see them swallowing it!

        The game was probably nowhere near as good as I thought it was, but I remember it as being full of awesome little details (still it was probably quite detailed for its time). And the ending was pretty funny too.

  6. NiccciN says:

    Loved this on the C64. Which is obviously superior (playground arguments) to the Spectrum as the little green goblin stops and has a little laugh when he gets to the decapitated body. Was surprised to see the Atari ST version was the same as the Spectrum where the little chap doesn’t break stride.
    link to youtu.be
    I would have put money on that there was an audible laugh too, guess my friends and I added that ourselves… Ah nostalgia.

    • klops says:

      You remember correctly. But when the music was on, the sound was off. The Laugh: link to youtu.be

    • Allegos says:

      I had the Commodore 64 version, and my fireball dodging skills weren’t up to par either, because I ever saw the end screen. I still remember the game very fondly, though.

  7. Dale Winton says:

    I remember the beheading and the girl with the boobs on the cover

  8. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Can’t believe you edited the poster. Man tits are fine but clothed (in the loosest sense of the word) woman tits are taboo?

    Sacrilege anyway, that’s like painting a bucket on the Mona Lisa’a head, god damn it.

    *stalks off muttering about Pope Clement XIII*

  9. Lobotomist says:

    Oh oh. One of my favorite games of all time. And certainly one where my skill was unmatched against my friends.

    All the psychological baiting for that one hit head chop :)

  10. tigerfort says:

    There was also a hilarious version of the ad where someone had pasted[1] a yellow cut-out “dress” onto the model because one magazine flatly refused to publish it otherwise.

    [1] literally, I think, because the rest of the photo didn’t look as though it had been through a graphics package of the time.

    • Ghostwise says:

      As long as the model still gets to hold his sword, I guess the dress isn’t much of a hindrance.

  11. Stevostin says:

    My gaming life really started when I got my father to buy me a second hand CPC and this came with it (cracked or legit, don’t remember). And boy, yes, yes we played it. That gameplay where you could land a death blow in a duel was something I miss in nowadays fighting games.

  12. catmorbid says:

    Oh man, that version doesn’t have the incredible music!

    Check out the C64 version with the awesome soundtrack – still one of the best game music pieces made, ever!

  13. BaronKreight says:

    Oh yes. I don’t think it was Atari for me though. Those rolling heads…

  14. PancakeWizard says:

    It almost looks like a reskinned but slightly worse IK+.

  15. Dinger says:

    There was also the bit where, if both players put down the joysticks for 15 seconds or so, the two barbarians would stare at you, and one would say “come on!” They begged you to send one of them to his bloody death. Best game ever 24/10.

  16. fray_bentos says:

    Oh god, yes, on the ZX Spectrum. As soon as I saw the screenshot I remembered the “slo-mo” animations. On seeing the videos above, I see that the same applied to the superior, non-spectrum versions as well.

  17. thekelvingreen says:

    I loved how everyone treated the beheading move as some sort of big secret even though everyone knew about it. Sort of like the trouser-dropping in IK+.

  18. CartonofMilk says:

    weirdly enough i have played this but like…3 or 4 years ago. I’m not a retro gamer at all but i always remembered seeing this game in the european video gams magazine i was buying as a tween and i never got to play it so a few years ago i decided to check it out.

  19. sege says:

    Holy wotsits, I can’t believe the final wizard was that easy to beat?! I got to him so many times with my roll spamming and web of death sword spinning but he would then get me every time with those fireballs.
    Not my favourite game of all time, but one of the most defining for me for sure.

  20. dbs says:

    I’ll have you know ladies & sirs that I have not merely “played” this game. I have, in fact, excelled at it. If you happen to disagree, I challenge you to a sword duel tomorrow at dawn at the nearest evil magician’s fortress or forest clearing. My green goblinoid will be delighted to kick your head away and laugh at your corpse once I decapitate you.

  21. mejoff says:

    I played on the spectrum!
    I remember configuring the controls so that player 1 and player 2 were identical except for reversed left and right, and then playing it as a morris dancing simulator.

  22. sebbylad says:

    I still remember the box blurb and I spotted the Wolf connection when gladiators first came on:

    “And Lo, from the frozen wastelands of the North he came…”

    Incidentally, if you listen carefully to the “hilariously bad grunty noises” they’re actually sampled from one of my all-time favourite films, and surely the best Barbarian film ever made, namely the original Conan: The Barbarian. The grunting is Arnie himself! Neeeyet!

    • Dirk says:

      Yep. Same for the idle animation on Amiga. Used to play it in two player mode just to have them standing there until they look at you and say “Come ahn!”. Another sound sample straight from the movie. ^_^

      Also: the laughing and the war drums when you lobbed a head off gave me the chills.

  23. Themadcow says:

    Fun fact – Maria Whittaker is married to Rebel MC of “Street Tuff” fame.

  24. Land says:

    Oh god, I loved this game so much! Me and my mate from lower school would always refer to it as the chop-head-off game, which is of course the one thing we were always trying to do.

    And I agree, the Atari ST version is the only correct way to play it.

  25. geldonyetich says:

    Yep, I played the C-64 version. As I recall, there was also a Barbarian 2. I guess the original was renamed to Death Sword and the sequel was called Axe Of Rage.