When I reviewed Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color in 2003, I was blown away by the freedom of creativity and customization it offered. That game contained a very powerful drawing engine which was capable of taking player-created images and instantly translating them into interactive 3D characters. Without overstating the case, I thought that what this engine was capable of was flat-out amazing. The downside was that there wasn't really a game there. I badly wanted to score it higher, but I couldn't ignore the fact that there just wasn't any meat to the quest. I put it on my shelf, and patiently waited for a sequel that would remedy the issue. A sort-of sequel is now here and although I'm very glad to see it, I have to say that Graffiti Kingdom makes the same mistake of oversimplification Pengel did—just in a different way.
The story in Graffiti Kingdom is frankly quite insipid, made doubly so by the developer's insistence on stuffing the disk full of cutscenes that are too frequent, too dull and too long. If anyone out there still cares about saving pastel-colored kingdoms from evil-yet-harmless demons, and you're in luck. Personally, I was disappointed there was no way to skip the cinematic interludes.
No, the big draw to Graffiti Kingdom was that instead of using your creatures strictly in rock-paper-scissors style battles ala Pengel, there would actually be a free-roaming world in which to run, jump, and fly them. This is basically true, but it's so hamstrung and limited that the game never really gets off the ground.
It's a shame, because the character-creation and drawing engines here are even better than they were the last time, and that's saying something. Using the tools provided, there is literally no limit to the kinds of things you can create. I had no difficulty at all making a giant elephant with a replica of my son riding on its back, and then giving him the power to shoot bolts of energy, to boot. Flapping birds that take to the skies, hulking brutes with devastating attacks, and even a variety of X-rated things are all easily accomplished. (My most powerful monster was a mostly-naked female wielding a pair of interesting tools.)
It takes a while to unlock all of the options available, but once the pieces are in place, Graffiti Kingdom's power to bring imagination to life is easily worth the price of purchase alone. Throw in choices to modify their movements, their voice, and to completely rearrange their attacks to suit your taste, and it's an irresistible package. However, where the drawing engine seems completely limitless, the gameplay that happens once you have a monster is so shallow, it's laughable. In a nutshell, each level consists of walking from one end of a small world to the other, bashing everything in your way. Occasionally, there will be a switch or two that must be hit to progress, but for the most part it's all about punching and walking. I guess it's a mixed blessing that the story mode can be completed in about five hours. I was honestly getting bored of the gameplay long before I reached the final boss, but at the same time, it seems that such a short main quest doesn't even begin to qualify as an actual fully-fleshed adventure.
I can understand the difficulty the game's designers must have faced, and what a challenge it must've been conceptually to design worlds that can accommodate any type of creature a player could possibly imagine. Humanoids, giant spiders, eyeballs with bat wings, and so on—how can you take it all into account? You can't. But I don't think that taking the lowest-common-denominator route as seen here is really the most effective answer.
Personally, I wouldn't have minded at all if some of the levels required specific creature types to advance. For example, one segment of the game needed something with wheels in order to get under falling barriers in a hurry, and none of the creatures on two legs or four were speedy enough. Unfortunately, this is the only occurrence of such a design requirement in the entire adventure. Off the top of my head, I would've liked seeing levels that required flying creatures, or perhaps some levels that required fire-oriented attacks, or levels that required something with extremely long legs for wading or jumping. Just because there are no limits on creating creatures, that doesn't mean there can't be any limits (or even just suggestions) in the main quest.
There are other things to nag about too, like the terrible camera system and a tutorial that fails to explain a crucial gameplay element (keep that instruction book handy, folks) but those things are just minor irritations compared to the gaping, sucking hole where the gameplay is supposed to go.
Graffiti Kingdom is a hard game to score because the two parts that make it up are so wildly disparate. It's sublimely complex and bursting with potential on one hand, unbelievably limited and shortsighted on the other. Just like Magic Pengel, this game about customization would be better served by being a complete game with customization. As it stands, it's another interesting niche oddity that could have been much more.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway