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Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color
Review By: Josh Fishburn
 
Developer:  Garakuta-Studio /
Taito
Publisher:  Agetec
# Of Players:  1-2
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  9-20-03

The magic of Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is your own.  As part of Agetec’s Designer Series, along with the niche favorites RPG Maker and Fighter Maker, the game gives you the brush, paint, canvas, and, when you paint, a magical transformation from two to three dimensions.  While the drawing is the strength of this game, it also crams a surprising amount of personality and story into the small area in which it takes place.  In essence it is true that this game relies on its drawing and, while this isn’t quite a gimmick, you will have to enjoy drawing doodles to fully enjoy this game.  Fortunately, the drawing aspect becomes so enjoyable that most people will be coming back after giving it a chance.

Since all games now require a narrative, Magic Pengel gives us a sad story of creation, humans, and doodles.  See, at one time there was no color.  Then the Spirit of Creation created color, humans, and doodles.  To the humans he granted a free spirit, the doodles a free body.  With their free spirits the humans drew doodles, and with their free bodies the doodles filled the world with color.  But, like always, free will comes along and mucks things up: a human king enslaves all of the doodles to control the colors of the world.  Saddened, the doodle king offers himself and half of the world’s colors to bar those with impure hearts from creating doodles.  But, you guessed it; the evil human king tries to control those pure-hearted humans who can create doodles.  That’s where you come in!

Magic Pengel takes place entirely in first person.  You are thrown into a situation where saving the people from the oppression of the kingdom is on your shoulders.  Along with Zoe and Taro (the first characters you meet in the game), you will search for their father Galileo (once the most renowned doodler in the kingdom) and attempt to free the people from the kingdom’s oppressive system.  Simply creating and fighting with your doodles can accomplish all of this!  Imagine that!

The game follows a pretty simple progression: draw doodles, fight in the kingdom preliminaries, challenge people in the town to battles, draw more doodles and make additions to your existing ones, and participate in story elements.  You will meet some interesting characters along the way, but the story is by no means the meat of the game.  If you let it be the meat and do little else, the game will likely take you less than 12 hours to plow through.  While the story cannot be described as slapped on, it certainly doesn’t hold up next to more traditional RPG’s where the story is the focus.  However, if you take the time to wander the small home area you will find a surprising variety of people to challenge and purchase items from.

Drawing the doodles, although seemingly simple at first, actually has quite a bit under the hood.  Depending on the colors, amount of paint, body parts, and placement, your doodle may turn out to be a prominent attacker, spell caster, or blocker.  These choices also determine the stats of your doodle (e.g. HP, MP, attack, defense, etc.)  You start out with very limited amounts of everything, so essentially the only doodle you can create is a glorified blob.  That soon changes however.  By winning preliminary matches in the main arena your Pengel will level up and gain new colors, a higher overall paint limit, and new parts (such as arms, legs, and even wings).  The Pengel (pronounced pen-jell) is a little cupid looking character that has paint brushes sort of attached to its body.  This is your mouse cursor, so to speak.  Although you don’t ever see yourself in the game, you essentially control the Pengel and follow wherever it goes.  Along with being your mouse cursor in the adventure portions of the game, it also serves the same purpose on your painting canvas, painting away with its tail.

The fighting consists of one-on-one, two-on-two, and three-on-three battles depending both on the arena and on how far along you are in the game.  Fighting is simple: it amounts to an enhanced game of Rock/Paper/Scissors.  You have four choices of moves: Attack, Magic, Block, and Charge, the latter you cannot select on the first turn.  Magic beats attack, attack beats block, and block beats magic.  Charge is unique in that it beats nothing, but it repairs some of your health along with powering up your next move.  If the attack you select beats your opponent’s selection, you dole out damage but take none, effectively canceling your opponent’s move.  It you select the same move, however, both moves are allowed to take place.  After using a move on one turn it is not selectable on the following turn.  This battle setup does allow for some strategy, and your doodles will have a huge variety of magic attacks as well, from poison to slow to sleep and everything in between.  The choices become more interesting when you fight more than one doodle.  Still, I frequently got stuck in situations where the decision was essentially made for me (i.e. there is an obvious best move) and since your opponent knows this as well the battle can become stale, especially without being able to select the same move twice in a row.  A few more moves would have helped the situation considerably, or perhaps a less strict interdependency of moves.

Now you know enough to get started playing the game, but there is actually much more.  In between your matches at the main arena and the story interludes, you can fly your little Pen pal around town and talk to all the locals.  They are actually pretty entertaining most of the time, and with some of them you can buy doodles, buy new brushes, initiate a battle challenge, or ask them a question.  They will often provide information in the context of the story at that point, so it is useful to talk to them outside of shopping or challenging.  Along with this, they are all very colorful.  I don’t think players would want to miss out on their vibrant personalities.  Anyway…when you challenge people to fight, the place you resolve your differences is the Seaside Arena.  When you fight people in this arena your Pengel does not gain anything, but you do win color gems (win or lose), and the doodles themselves gain experience if you win.  Color gems?  Experience?  No Gold??  Ah, you can go talk to Granny and she will give you 50% in gold color gems (which you can use to buy doodles and brushes) on any color gems that you trade in.

As you can see, there is a lot more to this game than initially meets the eye.  So how does everything balance out?  I found most of the main arena battles to be quite easy…as long as I took the latest abilities of my Pengel and put them to good use in between battles.  Herein lies perhaps the best lesson of the game.  The experience your doodles gain is almost useless (although the color gems you win in battles are anything but).  What does make a huge difference is your Pengel’s experience.  If you don’t take what your Pengel has learned and apply it to your existing doodles and to creating new doodles you will have a hard time winning any battles.  The amount of paint used in creating your doodle makes a huge difference in the extent of its abilities.  Usually the people you challenge are on the same level as you, but every once and a while I found somebody who was way more powerful, somebody I easily dispensed after fighting a few more main arena battles and powering up my doodles.

Magic Pengel has simple graphics, but that’s all that it needs.  It uses cel-shading to render your doodles, which is a perfect use of the technique.  I was stunned to see some of my doodles come to life, especially when my Pengel started hitting higher levels and I got more body parts.  The transition of a 2-d drawing to a 3-d animated being is easily the most impressive part of this game.  Admittedly it takes a little tweaking before you figure out where to put everything to get it to turn out exactly how you want, but it is totally worth it.  The only thing I found a little too difficult was trying to make additions to my doodle in 3-d space.  You can rotate the canvas in any direction, but it is still difficult to get some parts exactly where you want them.  Everything else about the graphics is pretty much middle of the road, but as far as I am concerned they get the job done.  Everything is vibrant and the characters definitely come to life.  There are some camera issues to note: Sometimes the Pengel gets stuck as if it hit an invisible wall.  This is especially annoying because Pengel flies; yet you are confined to certain paths by the layout of the ground.

In the sound department Magic Pengel impresses.  There is not a whole lot of music, but what is there is cheery, upbeat, and doesn’t really get old.  One of the toughest things for a video game to convey is humor, so I am always impressed when a game does it well.  The voice acting is some of the funniest I have heard in a long time, with an incredible array of wacked-out characters.  One girl burps then apologizes before she fights you, another guy dons a guitar and plays/sings consistently out of tune.  Along with this, the ambient sounds (such as people at the market, insects buzzing in the background, and wind) are excellent as well, really making it feel like a fully fleshed out world. 

HIGHS:

  • Unique premise
  • Awesome cel-shaded graphics and animation on the doodles
  • Great sounds
  • Entertaining characters
  • Opportunity to keep creating after you beat the main story

LOWS:

  • Outside of drawing, the gameplay is shallow
  • Boink…ANOTHER invisible wall
  • Drawing in 3-d is sometimes difficult and often unpredictable
  • Confusingly long load times

FINAL VERDICT:

Magic Pengel is a brilliant game.  It is colorful, full of personality, innovative, and allows for a liberating level of imagination.  The gameplay is literally limitless, with a fun two-player option, impressive creation options as your Pengel advances, the ability to continue playing after finishing the story, and the capacity to store up to 200 doodles on one memory card.  I only wish the story wasn’t so standard and the gameplay, outside of battling and drawing, so boring.  There are not many surprises, and it certainly doesn’t help that the area everything takes place in is so small.  I am also shocked by the painfully long load times when transitioning between the five areas you can go.  Knowing how small the game is and how simple the environments are makes this especially frustrating.  But I am forgiving…I dig this game so much I feel like I need to bookend this paragraph with positives: Magic Pengel really is a breath of fresh air.  Even with the gripes, each time I create a doodle and see it animate its just as exciting as the first time.  Giving gamers this kind of freedom is scary and addictive!  Definitely give this game a look.

Overall Score: 9.0

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