Developer: Garakuta-Studio Taito
Release Date: June 24, 2003
Buy 'MAGIC PENGEL: The Quest for Color': PlayStation 2
Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is a lighthearted RPG-ish rock-paper-scissors-ey duel-o-rama featuring a slew of colorful pokemon-esque critters that battle it out in various arenas. But this game has a unique gimmick. One that, as far as I know, has never before been used in a videogame; you can create your own 3D combatants using a simplistic in-game Paint program. So the characters that you see onscreen, fighting and casting spells and such, are entirely your own creations. Although it must be said that unless you are extremely artistically inclined, your “doodles” will hardly consist of Picasso caliber works of art. Nonetheless, it’s a novel premise that is executed quite well, and the end result is a bond with your fighting designs that will push you to keep playing well after you’ve realized the overly-primitive structure of the game.
Studio Ghibli, the same animation studio responsible for such masterpieces as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, chipped in on creating the game’s sparse hand-drawn animation sequences that are seen at the beginning and end of the game. Agetec also employed numerous doodle-makers to laden the experience with creative and unique opponents. The storyline revolves around a little girl and her kid brother and their long lost father and you. You being the wayward explorer who, through unseen circumstances, finds himself in the midst of their lives. The progression of the game’s story will gradually unfold as you successfully complete tournament matches pitting your hand drawn creations against sketched-out opponents. The further you get the more cute and sometimes touching cut-scenes involving the aforementioned troupe of characters you’ll get to see. And at $29.99 MSRP, it’s not a bad deal.
As the game begins you are introduced to two of the game’s main characters (other than yourself), a brother and sister named Zoe and Taro, respectively. You soon learn of their desire to reunite with their long lost father, who one day up and left without explanation. Zoe and Taro have been sending messages in bottles in the hopes of contacting their father, though whether those messages have been received is initially unknown. Before too long the local law enforcement pays Zoe a visit and informs her that the land she is living on, the land that she inadvertently inherited from her MIA father, is in jeopardy and unless she and Taro can come up with one million gold pieces the land will be lost. You, being the upstanding person you are, agree to help Zoe and her brother by competing in local Doodle tournaments and winning the required money to buy their land back. But that’s only the beginning of a story that eventually finds itself dealing with the saving of the world and all its colors (hence the subtitle). The various plot elements all work their way nicely into a cohesive story that comes together flawlessly at the end, though at a scant 10-hour romp one would expect nothing less.
As you defeat rival doodles you’ll gain experience and color allotments that allow you to consistently enhance your existing doodle or create new ones. The more color that you pile onto your doodle the higher its stats will become and the more offensive tricks it will learn. The actual creation of a doodle is very simple and streamlined; you’ll choose the body type of the doodle you want to create or enhance then draw it out in a paint program using the analog stick. You’ll earn new body types as the game progresses, starting out with basic arms, legs, head options and eventually graduate to more complex parts such as wings, weapons, and rotating parts. Once you’ve completed your design the game will automatically transform your creation into a fully operational 3D model. The transition from doodle to 3D character rendering is not without its flaws, as you’ll realize early on, but the finished product is always strikingly close to your original design.
The navigation system in Magic Pengel relies on a first-person perspective wherein you’ll navigate through a populated town full of other doodle enthusiasts that you can interact with. The interaction between characters is severely limited however as your only options will be to talk, purchase their doodle, or duel. If you choose to duel then they will meet you at the local Seaside Arena where friendly duels can be fought for color materials. But talking to NPCs and challenging them to duels is completely optional and doesn’t help to advance the story of the game. In order to progress through the story you’ll need to get into the habit of making the time-consuming trip to the main arena’s Kingdom Doodle Tournament and then traversing back to Zoe’s house where you’ll usually be greeted with a short cut-scene. Moving from area to area is a tedious process and made somewhat frustrating by the fact that you’ll have to sit through drawn-out (pun not intended) loading screens that usually last upwards of an entire minute.
The actual doodle battles are turn-based with each doodle taking turns between moves until only one doodle is left standing. While the combat system can be most accurately described as RPG style, the actual dynamics that they entail seem far too simplistic to categorize as such. Basically you have four separate commands that you can issue your doodle at the beginning of a fight; Attack, Defend, Magic, or Charge. Attack is self-explanatory. Executing a Defend command will block magic attacks and repel it back to the opponent. If the opponent doesn’t choose to perform magic when you defend then you’ll inflict a certain amount of damage on them, unless the opponent chooses to attack, in which case your defend move will prove useless. Performing a Charge allows you to regain a small amount of hit points and makes your next move substantially more powerful. Once you choose a command you can’t choose the same one in the next turn, this makes strategizing your attack pattern vital to success since if you are unable to perform, say, a Defend then you’ll be susceptible to magic attacks, et cetera.
From a visual standpoint Magic Pengel looks quite primitive, almost PSone quality. But everything is drawn with a certain amount of artistic “sketchy” flair that does make the game stand out somewhat. The various doodles that you’ll come across serve to maintain a sense of uniqueness in the game’s graphical presentation. The pre-made doodles that you’ll do battle with or purchase run the gambit of designs from a little carrot doodle to a relatively intricate flying dragon doodle. These doodles animate fluidly with each area of their body moving independently or in unison as the case may be, but the doodles I created were nowhere near the level of animation fluidity of the pre-made ones. Still though, given enough time and micromanaging I’m sure I could have come up with some fairly workable designs. The most impressive aspect of the game in terms of graphics are the Studio Ghibli-created animations. If you’ve watched any of Miyazaki’s Ghibli animations you already know how talented his team is at purporting beautiful, sentimental animations that somehow manage to captivate even the most iron wrought heart.
The soundtrack in Magic Pengel is something of a mixed bag, featuring simplistic cutesy little ditties one moment and sweeping harmonic orchestrations the next. The vocally-backed songs (there are three in total, I think) are really great, setting an almost kid-like nostalgic mood that lends itself nicely to the game’s rather innocuous presentation. Voice acting is good, for the most part, albeit drastically over-the-top. The voice actor of Taro, in particular, does an excellent job in purporting genuine emotion.
Overall, Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is a fun little RPG that younger audiences will undoubtedly enjoy thanks to its lighthearted story and gamers of all types should respect for its truly innovative doodle system and RPG elements. While most gamers will undoubtedly complete the game in a day or two it is still an entertaining ride while it lasts. If anything, the game is worth playing simply for the wonderful Studio Ghibli sequences.