The spiritual sequel to Barcode Kingdom takes the core concept of the original and places you in the boots of a single hero instead of an all-powerful god ruling over a miniature land. It’s a refreshing change of pace but is it enough to justify a second title in this manner?
Magic Cube managed to capture the essence of fun in the implementation of a barcode scanning mechanic to their games that sees you digging through the cupboards at home for items still in the box or old packaging in search of an elusive rare draw. They also showed that they understood what made kingdom management games fun by introducing some deep levelling and additional features that would run a game by themselves in the hands of lesser developers. The switch in focus to a single hero’s journey gives one the impression of playing inside that world created for the original game from a ground level, and together the two games complement each other extremely well.
Graphically Barcode Knight takes a much more pixelated approach to its artwork than Kingdom ever did. Gone are high resolution pre-rendered backgrounds and in their place are pixel-based environments that aim to trigger nostalgic warm fuzzies in older players whilst disarming younger ones with a cute graphical style for characters. The whole thing has a particularly ‘Tales of Phantasia’ based look to it that appeals to me, especially with the addition of a side-scrolling view for combat. Monsters that existed as tiny sprites in the original game have been faithfully recreated as taller more characterful adversaries and they genuinely feel like they’ve been zoomed in on from the original’s maxed out viewpoint to show off their designs. It’s still generic fantasy filler, but it’s good looking filler with many graphical flourishes it didn’t have to include but the team did anyway to raise the standards to a higher level. It is however a shame that the backgrounds for battles (the bulk of the game) are static and completely unanimated as moving trees or weather effects would have added a great deal to the graphical polish of these sections. Every in game item can be given to your character and his or her appearance will alter to reflect it, allowing for a ‘dress up’ style of play. Overall everything feels a lot like Tales of Phantasia when you look at screenshots.
Music has taken a dramatic upswing as well, with the title screen being packed with energy and fast paced whilst retaining an epic quality. This spools over onto the town map as before, and alongside the battle music (also jazzy in a Megaman X style) becomes part of a limited selection of tracks. This once again can lead to annoyance on the part of the player. Sound effects are less obtrusive in this title however, with small noises accompanying actions.
Once again the title features a total absence of plot, which feels a little less forgivable given the nature of the gameplay this time around. You’re a hero restoring a village to its former glory, the design team could at least have added an opening scrawl or a cutscene to give us a framework within which to enjoy the game. Instead we have a brief tutorial segment and then players are left to their own devices, given a pop-up speech by an NPC at certain landmarks when levels are reached in order to make the game tougher. One feels that giving the five NPCs in town a unique voice to go with their varied sprites and adding some vague ‘save the land’ plot wouldn’t have stretched the developers by much.
Gameplay is streamlined from the original Barcode title to something resembling a game of rock, paper, scissors where everything boils down to two sides charging one-another on screen with the winners being the highest damage dealers or those with the longest health bar. The game devs have added two buttons (originally only one) which allow you to expend 30 Energy (the games main currency which drives all actions) to restore your health once a battle, and to pull off a special move with your weapon if you’ve stayed alive for a suitable amount of time. You can bring an AI partner along for the ride with you, who you can pay Gold (the games secondary currency) to level alongside yourself and who can cover one of the three class types you’re not inhabiting. Class is decided by what weapon you’re wielding at the time. Swords, Bows or Staffs for warriors, archers and mages. You can also equip armour and a hairstyle/helmet. Everything can be fused with an exact duplicate of itself dropped as loot to make one single, stronger weapon and this takes place in real time varying depending on the level of the weapon and how much gold you’ve paid. The game menu outside of combat is dressed as a town where you can enter a portal which teleports you to battles for 5 Energy, a second portal which will send you to boss encounters for 30 Energy and a free to use portal that uses barcodes to randomly generate battles based on codes. An inn exists to recruit your NPC partner, a shop allows you to sell loot to make quick gold, a guild gives simple quest objectives and three different experts can fuse your gear together. Weapons, hair and armour respectively. It’s really nothing to shout home about and it comes down to a lot of simple clicking, but the streamlined RPG aspects are surprisingly addictive.
Overall the game feels like a wasted potential in a lot of areas, especially in the streamlining of the barcode mechanic from Kingdom which allowed you to generate characters, weapons, armour and more. The developers do seem to be keeping up with the title, adding more content or small changes at a regular rate but it’s a mild distraction at best rather than the sequel we expected to take the barcode formula into the big time.