A nifty little gimmick shouldn’t be the only selling point for a title on the iStore. Luckily Barcode Kingdom manages to offer a rich game to back up the novelty of scanning random barcodes into your device to generate random content.
Developed by a company called Magic Cube, Barcode Kingdom spent a few years as a paid title before dropping to the price of free (not freemium!) to celebrate the launch of its spiritual successor ‘Barcode Knight’. Both games make use of similar systems and are certainly a part of the same fantasy world, even if all assets between them have been completely redrawn. Playing both together actually enhances the experience in unexpected ways, with it feeling like you’re seeing the action from the ground level whilst controlling the world from above in a tactical god-sim manner. I’ve chosen to categorise Barcode Kingdom as a Social RPG because of a few features that tip it into RPG territory and some interesting game sharing additions to gameplay.
Graphically Barcode Kingdom uses 2D sprites over high resolution illustrated backgrounds. The mixture works very well, although the sprites look tiny in battle and occasionally overlap elements of the background that are intended to be views as foreground features. A strange omission given that the inclusion of an overhead layer of illustration would not have been that hard. Still, everything looks just great on the iPhone 5c, with the full screen in use despite the games age. In terms of design there is a generic fantasy formula in place here that sees mages, archers and knights of various types exploring generic ‘dungeon’ areas. The game does include special characters that can be recruited (one for free with a download of Barcode Knight) that possess a lot more interesting visual flourishes and stand out against the crowd of more generic units. The games UI is clean, well put together and thumb friendly since the game plays entirely in portrait mode.
Musically the games introduction screen takes notes from a very medieval theme, which is continued on the overworld map. Battles have a little more pace and punch to them, but ultimately you’re going to be listening to the same few tracks over and over again on a loop so you’ll have to decide for yourself at which point enough is enough and the mute button goes on. Sound effects are quite loud, possibly to be heard over the soundtrack and again lacking in variety. The slam of a drawbridge closing on the screen between loading areas can be jarring.
There’s no story mode included in this title, so those who enjoy a good romp through a fantasy land are going to be disappointed. It’s far more of a goal-orientated game that lets you frame things however you want to in your head, but ultimately fails to deliver on this front. It’s a shame because there is a clear progression through dungeons filtered through the games length that with a little narration would come to life quite easily.
Gameplay, notably the games central hook, is the meat of this title. Essentially the player manages a worldmap from the relative safety of his or her castle at the centre of the fictional continent, sending out groups of heroes to deal with monsters that pop up around them and gaining entrance to various dungeons as the game progresses. The central feature is in the use of a phone or tablet’s camera to scan barcodes found on just about anything – I imagine this title is a shelf-stacker’s dream, with endless options at one’s fingertips – with the results turned into in-game elements. Characters such as knights and mages are generated across multiple ranks or rarity, as are weapons to equip them with, potions to pump them up in battle and more. This feature uses a currency that regenerates quite quickly (or can be restored through the use of real money) called AP, and that same currency is also used to send parties of your making off on missions. Missions take multiple forms including message runs, monster kills, dungeon clearing and mining for rare stones. Everything can be upgraded from weapons and armour to levelling characters you possess, but the base of the game is in making your castle better to unlock more options in-game. Gold is used to do this and it can be acquired in multiple ways including swatting birds flying over the world map. Characters walk to their mission location in real time, meaning that some missions may take up to an hour to occur, but you can walk away from the game and return to it, making it perfect as a drop in/out title. One can also expend AP to teleport to a location instantly. Battles themselves are automated, with your only interactions being casting potions into the mix to buff them and editing the party beforehand. The party can be joined by a pet caught in a dungeon and fused with other pets in a mini-system all of its own, as well as a social friend who can help out once every 8 hours or so. Ultimately the formula comes down to levelling characters against monsters in order to fight bigger more powerful monsters and max out your base. It’s sadly not all roses however, the game frequently freezes and goes to a dead screen when the device’s orientation is jogged, which can lose you progress, and the world map can get jumbled leaving some locations still listed but impossible to visit because they are stuck off-screen.
It would be easy to write off Barcode Kingdom as a gimmick with a game hastily built around it, especially with the lack of a story mode, but the gameplay elements are strong enough to encourage replay value and additional features popping up such as pets and an arena allow for gameplay that should get stale to remain fresh. Magic Cube have managed to produce an original title in their own little fantasy world here and I look forward to seeing them continue to progress it in different titles over time.