Wednesday 21 August 2013

Commerce Conflict Barcode Battler Handheld

Straddling the gap between the toy, trading card game and handheld video game markets, Commerce Conflict: Barcode Battler from Tomy and Epoch is a strange beast. Released in 1991, despite being very popular in Japan, it just never took off here and has been lost as another obscure footnote in handheld gaming history.

The basic concept of the game is a card battle, an even more simplified version of Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic or whatever else. In some senses it is deceptively simple, and in other ways it is a deep and complicated amalgamation of video game, interactive toy and oddly artistic commentary on consumerism in western society (alright, that might be reading into things a little too far).

The unit was supplied with a number of cards. Some were warriors and wizards, the good guys (with stupid names like Jam Bam and Beast Feast). Some were enemies (with awesome bad guy names like Droome and Baguza), and some weapons and power ups. The way you use these cards was by scanning a the card's barcode using a reader on the bottom of the device.

This may sound pretty pointless...What's the point in scanning a card into a device, when reading the stats off a card would be just as efficient, and probably a lot cheaper? Crap gimmick, right? Well, yeah, right, but also wrong.

The machine provides a random number generator affecting how much damage you do, whether your attack lands or misses, etc. which gives the game a bit of variation. More importantly, though, users are encouraged to go out and scan their own barcodes from household items. The manual carefully covers it's arse with this though, saying that it sometimes might not work. Or, you know, might just never work. It seems that the barcodes need to be exactly the same size and length as the ones on the supplied cards. Equally, it may be that the codes have to be from the early 90's, in which case sod off, I don't have anything from back then that I'm willing to cut up. I've tried cereal boxes (Krave, because it's the biz), magazines and various food packets but nothing modern seems to work. I do have one card that whoever had the Barcode Battler before me made... but that doesn't work either. Eesh.

Other than the whole problem with the console's main gimmick not working, it's actually a half decent game in itself. It's very simple to play and genuinely pretty fun. The storyline in the manual is pretty naff, though.

Far off in the Barcode Nebula (apparently on a clear night, you can see it west of Orion's belt) The Sacred Keys made from Regista Stone (Register, like the thing you scan barcodes on, get it?) have been stolen by forces of evil. You have to go through a series of 5 'Light Worlds' defeating each world's unique clan, in order to defeat it's boss to get the Sacred key back. Once you get 3 keys you go on to the next 'era' and do it all over again... 4 times.

Now remember I said the game is pretty fun? It's pretty fun for a little play session. However, each clan has 10 members, and any one of them could have the key. You need at least 3 keys to advance, although the manual actually recommends going to the other light worlds too, to level up your warrior. And you have to do this all 4 times. This means you could have to battle a total of up to 120 enemies to win the game, and if you really want to level up (which may actually be necessary to complete the game) you could fight up to 200 battles. Each battle takes a few minutes so you could be looking at 600 mins for a really full game. Yup,10 hours of handheld LCD gaming. That's pretty hardcore. If you wanted to go serious hardcore mode, you could complete the game with all 6 characters... and then there's all the barcodes you could find around the house... and then there's an entirely separate mode when you play against the far stronger enemies supplied in the box! Blimey. I bet there's someone out there who bought this thing in 1991 and is still having a great time playing it.

Looks pretty exciting, right?
The actual gameplay is a simple turn based battle. You can either choose BATTLE (attack) or POWER (use your power up card, which could be a weapon, some life points or a defence booster). You can also use Survival points, which recover your life points, or if you are a wizard character, you can choose from some spells to either attack, reduce the enemy's defence, raise your defence or replenish health. It's a fairly standard trading card style game.

However, while some may argue that the incredibly repetitive gameplay let's it down, there is a fair amount of variation available. I haven't been playing this long enough (and I doubt I ever will) to bother to use the save feature, but still whenever I start a new game it is interesting enough to play for a while again. This is because the game will start you in a random Light World against a random enemy from that clan. While this isn't the most exciting game mechanic ever, when you couple it with the fact that you can choose from 6+ slightly different characters, and also 2-player with your friend, it gives it a certain amount of replayability. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to sit down and complete the quest, but I have  played it and mildly enjoyed it more than once. Considering that when I got this I thought I would hate it, things haven't gone too badly.

Whenever you're feeling down in the dumps, just think  "at least my name isn't Jam Bam".

All in all, is the Barcode Battler a good gaming system? Not particularly, which is probably why it flopped. However, it's not as bad as it seems at first glance. There is a limited amount of fun to be had with it, and considering the fact that it's a toy for kids, hearing that there's some fun to be had from an adult (albeit a childish one) has to say something. Perhaps I just enjoy it because of it's weird oddball-ness.

Really, though, it wasn't that far off the mark. In fact in some senses, the Barcode Battler was actually very much ahead of it's time. Nintendo released it's quite similar E-Reader for the Gameboy Advance a full 10 years later in 2001, releasing classic Nintendo games and unlockables for current games on scannable cards. That peripheral also sold badly, but still, it shows that the idea of scanning stuff was still in the works in the new millennium. More recently, I have noticed at a few seaside amusement arcades something called Dino King, which I think runs on the same kind of premise. You collect and trade cards, and then battle them at the arcade machine. Equally, QR codes are still a thing (even though most people seem to have forgotten them) and there is an undercurrent of people playing QR code 'treasure hunt' games, where you go around finding QR codes and scanning them with your phone, revealing the clue to the next code.

That said, these newer gaming devices/techniques haven't exactly made waves, in fact they have pretty much flopped as hard as the Barcode Battler itself. I would like to pretend that the Barcode Battler is a fantastic forgotten gem of the gaming world that completely changed gaming as we know it, but that would be a complete lie.

In reality, the Barcode Battler is could have once been described as rad, dope, wizard, cosmic, wicked and a myriad of other shit 90's lingo, but overall, much like those phrases, it's really just a pile of pap.

Thanks for reading,
Dusty Old Games.


  1. Maybe you need to check with true type fonts of Barcodes and print some samples, which one is accepted by the machine. A trial an error exercise but better than find old barcodes for valuable things. Maybe some barcode program can tell you which one is it. Good luck!

  2. "never took off here"

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