Bard to the Future

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Battlebard Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Bard to the Future stars a “battlebard” in the medieval era who really has to pee. When a pair of goofy guards prevent him from letting it go in the woods, he runs off and finds an anachronism in the form of a blue porta-potty with a digital clock inside. When he steps in and closes the door, the blue box transports him to the present day - not unlike another famous blue box - where he learns that he has been summoned by a wizard… or at least a D&D-playing kid who is playing the part of a wizard, along with his friend, the child barbarian.

Antics ensue as the LARPers set out on a quest with their newfound warrior companion, until they get to their friend’s house, and a battle ensues between the battlebard and a bomb-tossing youth. While it’s questionable what a kid would be doing throwing bombs off a roof for the sake of a game, this plays out like a simple boss fight, with the battlebard waiting for the kid to jump down to the ground so that he can knock the bombs back into him. But things go too far when the battlebard beheads the child at the end of the fight.

This pretty well sums up the tone and humor of the game, which is steeped entirely in consequence-free silliness. Eventually, the battlebard finds himself on a quest to locate a number of map pieces, because his future self apparently (this happens offscreen) told the kids that he was meant to do so. There are loads of cutscenes, which are fully voiced by an amateur cast, as the battlebard pushes forward to collect map pieces and face off against his newly-met nemesis in the form of a cyborg pirate.

The battlebard has only two skills at his disposal: a 2x nonvariable jump, and the ability to perform a dash maneuver. The dash is key to dealing with enemies and crossing gaps, but it can also be a bit difficult to use…

By dashing into enemies from behind, they are killed instantly, whereas hitting them head-on spells death for our hero. Unfortunately, enemy patrol routes are not always tied to the level geometry, and enemies do not always pause before changing directions. This means that the battlebard may charge forward with his deadly strike, only to have the enemy unexpectedly turn around and kill him instead. Fortunately, he may also jump on most enemies’ heads to dispatch them as well, but since enemies often come to a halt before reaching a ledge, the battlebard may overshoot his intended target.

The dash move may be used on the ground or in the air, and it is often used in combination with a jump to reach distant platforms. It is not possible to interrupt the dash move in any way, thus requiring a high level of precision when attempting to stick a landing on a narrow ledge. Players also cannot jump while dashing, even while standing on the ground, allowing for situations where a player may dash through an enemy and off a ledge on the far side, without the ability to recover.

Players are given infinite lives with fairly frequent checkpoints, and levels are short, so little progress is lost upon death. The battlebard often yells out quips when meeting his untimely demise, shouting about some damaged body part, such as his legs or kidneys. Some of these exclamations are context sensitive, such as getting killed by a cannonball, only for the battlebard to remark that his armor isn’t cannon proof. Once you reach your 10th death in a level, the battlebard wonders aloud whether the player is killing him on purpose, at which point a death counter appears in the upper right of the screen.

The player’s journey takes him through seven different time periods across 26 levels, including modern day, medieval times, the ice age, and ancient Egypt. Enemies and hazards change with each era, so players will find themselves fighting cavemen on slippery ice, dodging swinging axes within the halls of a castle, dodging mummies that emerge from sarcophagi, jumping over rolling barrels aboard a pirate ship, and murdering cats and construction workers in the modern era.

In all eras, you must avoid bottomless pits (a mark of bad civil engineering, according to the hero), although water – unlike many platformers – is not harmful, and the player may tap the JUMP button to reach the surface and hop out safely on the other side.

There are a few other odd quirks to get used to: For instance, rolling barrels will kill you if you touch them while they’re moving, even when hopping on them from above… even though you can safely hop on patrolling enemies and flying cannonballs. You can stand on a barrel while it’s stationary, but you will die the moment it starts rolling again. Also, swinging axes can kill you even while they’re behind solid brick wall tiles because the battlebard’s head extends into the wall when jumping.

The level geometry is very simple, with some areas amounting to little more than a re-skin of others, but there are some challenges unique to certain time periods. For instance, one area has you outrunning a huge rolling stone, ala Raiders of the Lost Ark; another area sees you dodging falling beehives that will cause you to run forward uncontrollably if they land on your head; a mine cart sequence requires that you alternate between ducking under low walls and jumping over gaps and enemies; running across ice causes you to move very quickly, setting up some high-speed jumping sequences; and performing a well-timed hop on a cannonball can help you reach higher platforms.

Completing a set of three levels opens up the next three, which may be played in any order. Aside from the occasional boss encounter, the player is generally tasked with surviving from one end of the level to the other, as map pieces are laying out in the open at the end of most levels. Players may also replay the levels in a time trial mode in order to challenge their previous runs.

Bard to the Future was developed by BattleBard Games, based in Dublin, Ireland. The studio was founded in 2014 by Thomas Cashman and David Doyle. Thomas originally started developing the game in 2012.