A game far too serious for kids: Snakeboards beat Barcode Battlers, says Imogen Edwards-Jones

Imogen Edwards-Jones
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:20

THE SQUAT latex man with a thick blue loincloth wedged between his buttocks makes a loud humming sound as he bounces and gyrates, trying to butt his partner out of the ring. A Sumo Wrestler, all yours for pounds 23.95.

Then there are Big Rex Dinosaur, Big Bird's Phone-a-Friend Talking Computer, Bubble Mower, Bubble Bomber and Alligator Teeter Totter. Christmas comes in February at the 40th International Toy and Hobby Fair at Earls Court, London. Among the pale-pink plastic that seems a prerequisite for everything girlie, the video screens on each stall blast out 1993 yuletide advertisements to the tune of 'Jingle Bells'.

At the Tomy stand (H6, Level 2 - there are 410 stands in all) they had invited Jeremy Beadle for a walkabout. And like all the other visitors there, he was introduced to the Barcode Battler, an absurdly complicated computer game, even for adults.

'Just place the Kellogg's Pop Tarts bar code in the Battler, build up your points, then zap the wizards and the warriors, keeping a careful eye on yer spells,' the executive salesman explains, flicking his tie over his shoulder as he begins to play. 'After two weeks of Sonic the Hedgehog you can master it quite easily. But this is a game of strategy rather than computer graphics. It's rather like chess. You can never master it.'

Barcode Battler is the craze in Japan, he says, slipping in the code from some chocolate biscuits for 9,400 points - a poor score; more than 30,000 is acceptable. 'My Sunday Times was worth more than 70,000 points yesterday,' chips in a girl from over the counter. 'I wonder about the Independent,' the salesman smiles. He rips off the bar code and places it in the machine. Nothing. 'Must be something to do with the print,' he mutters. 'Perhaps if we photocopy it,' offers the girl.

Good game for pounds 21.98, photocopier not supplied.

'Do you remember when Rick Astley was a star and the M25 was a good idea?' shouts a man with an immaculate set of white teeth. 'Then you will remember Z-Knights. Well, they are back revamped and relaunched . . .' Larry, who's getting pounds 100 a day for flogging the plastic-kit toys that are made to be destroyed, used to be a professional comedian and a warm-up man for television shows. 'Times are a bit lean,' he admits. 'It's actually quite a laugh, although I don't know how I'll feel having said the same thing all day, every day, for four days.'

Around the corner, two blond Australians are colouring girls' faces with pale-pink plastic make-up. 'It's not the most stimulating or intellectual work,' they admit, but at least they do not have to wear those costumes.

Amanda is dressed as a pig in a black leather mini-dress, with suspenders. She's selling Pig Out, an adult game that involves food and alcohol. She removes her pig mask. 'Oh, I do a lot of promotional work,' she says, wiping her running eye-liner. 'I've done plenty of kissogram stuff.'

Mark at the Waddington stand patrols his ultra-violet dungeon in a leopard-skin loincloth, complete with helmet and sword. After talking a group through the new Dungeons and Dragons board game, he confides: 'This is nothing. More than 15 million people have seen my bits on TV when I did a documentary for QED on how people size each other up.'

Near the exit, a stand lit by only eight bulbs proves that if the product is good enough, no gimmicks are necessary. The Snakeboard is by far the best-designed object at the fair. Like a cross between a skateboard and roller skates, it can reach 20mph on the flat without the rider's feet ever touching the ground.

What do the children think of all this? Difficult to say: there aren't any there. 'Kids are not involved in this,' one buyer says. 'It's all about money.'

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