If ‘Dungeon Marauders’ and ‘Barcode Knight’ had a baby, it would probably be Code of Arms, a game that attempts to fuse RogueLike dungeon crawling with card based battling and a barcode scanning mechanic to find new equipment.
Developed by Brian Wurster (a team of one), Code of Arms offers an intriguing package that takes inspiration from a lot of successful titles and drafts them into one new game. The code-scanning mechanic is an underused option on mobile games, with only a few RPGs having attempted to use it for unit or item generation in the past (notable ‘Barcode Kingdom’ and ‘Barcode Knight’) and gimmicks such as these seem to have fallen by the way-side. Once upon a time games that randomly generated based on photos, voice samples and music you had on your device were quite common, with even Square Enix getting in on the action. Whilst a hook more than a reason to play, these systems offered something that couldn’t be done on other platforms and added much-needed originality.
Graphically, Code of Arms uses 2D illustrations that have a western comic book sensibility, looking like something pulled from the pages of a newspaper funny or a webcomic. The games display is clearly presented and has a minimum of buttons and text on screen at any time, allowing the tactile nature of touching cards or glowing tiles to speak for itself. There’s not a whole lot to the graphical style past the initial illustrations, with animation not a part of the games design, but the cards themselves feature icons that are cleverly suited to each individual action you could make or see done. Whilst not a powerhouse, it stands out based on these features.
Sound is heavily synth and reminiscent of music on the PlayStation 2, with the title screen offering a nice looping melody that feels like it would fit happily into Suikoden III. Dungeons themselves have a more dour piano melody that sets a grim tone and matches the games restrictive one-floor concept but loops a little too quickly for my liking and doesn’t change for battles. Sound effects are more restrictive, with a great deal of use from one ‘swish’ noise to signify a card being drawn from your deck but no sound effect for the effects of using one. Buttons too fail to click when pressed, leaving the game feelingly oddly disconnected at times from what’s happening on screen.
Sadly the game has no story elements to speak of, which weakens this aspect of the title. The quest set out before the player is simply to reach level 10 of any randomly generated dungeon, but much more could have been made of how or why you’re doing this, even if simply through the use of an opening blurb to better set the scene. As it stands the game focuses on being the equivalent of PC-classic ‘Minesweeper’ which is a fun game to grab and play for a quick period without thinking too much about.
Gameplay is both extremely simple and surprisingly deep. The objective of the game is to get to the 10th level of a dungeon, which in turn consists of single-level screens broken down into square grids that must be searched one square at a time. It’s not necessary to kill every monster on the grid but monsters do prevent you from searching the spaces around them and some bigger monsters can hide the key, which when found opens up the door to the next level. Finding the key is paramount to progressing. You can also stumble across fires which damage your precious health and hearts which restore a small amount. Largely however the game boils down to combat, and this is where the barcode scanning comes into play because all the gear you’re wearing comes from items you’ve scanned and each piece generates between one and three cards to add to your deck. In combat you take it in turns to play cards up to a total of five points, which lay out on a timeline and remain active for as long as they are on screen, new cards pushing them off to the right. The aim is to survive with a minimum of HP loss and to outright kill the opposing monster, which has its own custom-built deck of moves. There is a wide range of cards available, split between magical and physical attacks evenly in my investigations so far, with few repeated so the options for deck building are huge. Unfortunately remembering what you have equipped and what it can give you card-wise is key, because scanning a new code could replace the cards you’ve been relying on and with HP at a premium, holding on to cards with a healing element of some description is vital.
Overall the game impressed most with its price point – it’s totally free with no in-app purchases or ads. This is a BIG deal for a game of this kind and takes what could have been a simple diversion into near masterpiece territory, proving that it is possible to release a non freemium free game in today’s market. It’s obviously a labour of love for Brian Wurster and I strongly recommend that people check it out. The game may not reinvent the wheel, but it does a brilliant job of keeping the day rolling when boredom threatens to set in and doesn’t require any kind of online status to run.