You know your system has a lot of role-playing games when companies start branching off into weird sub-genres, like Graffiti Kingdom, an RPG with a heavy emphasis on art. Oh sure, there are plenty of games out there that have pushed the boundaries of graphics and presentation, but few have allowed you to draw, animate, and detail your way through worlds of magic, monsters, and adventure. It’s a little quirky, but Graffiti Kingdom proves to be a surprisingly interesting game that is perfect for anybody who has ever wanted to bring a comic book character to life.
This is not the first time this wacky concept has been attempted on the PlayStation 2; this is the pseudo-sequel to 2003’s Magic Pengel: the Quest for Color, a good game that was hurt by some strange game play decisions and a terrible combat system. Two years later Taito has put together a game that is still dogged by a few programming issues, but is leaps and bounds ahead of Magic Pengel. With its colorful graphics, sugar-sweet voice acting, and whimsical story, Graffiti Kingdom may not appeal to everybody, but anybody that finds it won’t be disappointed.
Graffiti Kingdom tells the story of a 10 year old boy named Pixel, the Prince of Canvas Kingdom. One day, while running about and generally getting into trouble, Pixel accidentally opens up a magic seal that allows demons to enter Canvas Kingdom and enslave the towns people. The guardian of the seal, a 13 year old “box dog,” is named Pastel and teaches Pixel how to use the magic of graffiti to defeat the hordes of demons that have ruined a perfectly good kingdom. Together they set out on a fun, although brief, adventure that will have you drawing new beasts and collecting the ones that get in your way.
In most ways Graffiti Kingdom resembles your basic dungeon hack, albeit with a lot more florescent colors and cute enemies. Unlike Magic Pengel that offered a “Paper, Rocks, Scissors” style of game play, Graffiti Kingdom allows you to punch and kick your enemies all while dodging their attacks in a realistic fashion. This new game play works a lot better, but it won’t take long before you realize that you’re basically just beating up one enemy after another. None of the characters have anything in the way of a combo system, and you can pretty much forget about any special moves. This game relies on you mashing a few buttons over and over, but even still, that’s light years beyond the combat in Magic Pengel.
As Pixel you will be able to switch between three different characters of your choosing at any given time. This allows you to put together combinations to take out all kind of foes, such as pairing a graffiti creature with a long-range shot with one that is good at hand-to-hand combat. Graffiti Kingdom offers up a lot of graffiti creatures to play as, each with their own different attacks, strengths, and weaknesses. There may not be a lot of depth with each character, but they made up for it in the size of the game’s pre-made character roster.
With over 220 different pre-made graffiti creatures it’s easy to spend your whole time just finding the right one, but they are only an idea of what you can do with the tools provided for you in Graffiti Kingdom. Like its predecessor, much of the fun of Graffiti Kingdom can be found in drawing your own 3D characters. Like just about everything else in this game, the art program used here has gone through a number of important improvements. Taito has done just about everything they can to aid you on your quest to make cool looking 3D characters, a task that would normally be pretty tricky to do. It still takes some practice (and perhaps even some previous art skill), but you’ll be making unique graffiti creatures in no time. Along with designing the look you can assign various skills and attributes, as well as give your character a few powerful attacks.
Although the drawing system is simple enough for novices (and children), it’s also complex enough for you to create just about anything your mind can come up with. Be it famous comic book characters, classic movie monsters, or the scary things that haunt you nightmares, if you can imagine it then you can probably draw it in this game. With such a powerful tool it’s easy to see how a community could form from people sharing their creations, original and famous. There are already resources online that show graffiti creatures of everybody from Mega Man to the King of All Cosmos (from Katamari Damacy). The only thing that would have made the art portion of the game better is if there was a way to upload and share your creations with other Graffiti Kingdom owners.
Your basic goal is to collect three different keys from three unique worlds, each with their own sub-sections and boss battles. There are puzzles in the game, but they rarely stray far from you having to find the right box to hit in order to trigger a door to open. The game is extremely simple, with no puzzles that require more than a split-second to figure out. But that’s okay, since the crux of the game is you taking your graffiti creature out and beating up hordes of bad guys.
Along the way you will be forced to battle countless types of graffiti creatures -- everything from fish to robots to plants to dinosaurs to you name it. The developers of Graffiti Kingdom did not get lazy when it came to developing different baddies for you to take care of, just when you think you’ve seen the wildest thing they throw something even crazier your way. When you’ve grown tired of the overly simple story (with a heavy emphasis on friendship) and you’re tired of pushing the same buttons over and over to attack, it’s these different characters that will keep you going.
Unfortunately, as cool as those regular enemies are, the bosses are a bit of a let down. Not only are they not very difficult to defeat, but they aren’t all that imaginative either. This seems very strange considering how amazing all of the other characters are in the game, but when it came to creating larger villains to go after, Graffiti Kingdom just couldn’t find the inspiration. Thankfully you won’t have to deal with many of them, but a little more attention to the bosses would have gone a long way.
Although the graphics won’t win any awards when compared to games like God of War and Gran Turismo, they are quite a bit better than what we saw in Magic Pengel. The characters you make end up looking good in the world of Graffiti Kingdom, not something could be said about the original. The background graphics, while generally interesting, are often plain and using repeating textures. Chances are you won’t even notice since the game will be too busy throwing different enemies your way.
When you’re not drawing new characters and using them to fight the demons, chances are you’re watching one of the numerous cinema scenes. For such a simple story there seems to be a lot of cinemas to explain it all, generally with the sounds of little children bickering over cheesy music. Of course, it’s not that you’re actually listening to children talk … the cast is almost completely made up of women. Not that there’s anything wrong with women in video games, but when every male part is played by a women it tends to get somewhat confusing. In fact, at one point in the game Pixel is shocked (SHOCKED!) when he discovers that Pastel (the “box dog”) is actually a 13 year old girl … even though at no point did she sound anything like a boy.
But chances are it’s not the voice acting that will run you off … it’s the music. Don’t get me wrong, the tunes are all upbeat and, for what they are, well done. But they were entirely too upbeat for my taste, often doing nothing but annoying me. The game also lacks a lot of sound effects, so you’ll be hearing the same sounds ad nauseum. Of course, none of this is any worse than your average cartoon on TV, but then again, that’s not an especially high mark to strive for.
Once you’ve played through the story you will have a number of other modes to deal with. You can challenge your friends to a one on one battle royale, or go through and battle the various bosses again. If you have another friend with interesting creations you will likely find the multiplayer modes to be worthwhile, but it can be a somewhat limited experience that requires both players to have something to bring to the table. There’s just not enough depth in the fighting system to make the battles as electrifying as those found in Tekken 5 or really any other fighting game released in the last ten years (save Mortal Kombat Advance).
But this is more of a tool than it is a game, something that will allow you to create interesting characters and take them on a fairly boring adventure. If you’re the type of person that loves to draw and create then you owe it to yourself to at least see what you can do within the confines of Graffiti Kingdom, you will probably be surprised at how deep it can be. This is still far from being a perfect adventure game, but it’s a step in the right direction for a series that has a lot of unique ideas going for it. It may not be the biggest PlayStation 2 game of 2005, but it’s certainly one that demands to be played with at least once this lifetime.
Despite it's repetitive game play and shallow story, Graffiti Kingdom manages to be one of the most unique games of the year. If you've ever wanted to see your artwork come to life and take on the demons of the world, then Graffiti Kingdom should be the next game in your collection.