Graffiti Kingdom First Look

We get a look at Taito and Hot-B's upcoming third-person adventure with an artistic flair.

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Graffiti Kingdom is the upcoming 3D action game from Taito and publisher Hot-B. The unique game blends traditional third-person-action gameplay and role-playing-game elements with the unique drawing mechanic last seen in Taito's Magic Pengel. But while the original Magic Pengel offered an engaging but modestly linear experience, Graffiti Kingdom takes a much more expansive approach that's an improvement over its predecessor in the unique doodling genre that Taito pretty much invented.

Graffiti Kingdom features the next step in Taito's doodling gameplay mechanic that was introduced in Magic Pengel.
Graffiti Kingdom features the next step in Taito's doodling gameplay mechanic that was introduced in Magic Pengel.

While the title would lead you to think Graffiti Kingdom has some bizarre urban twist and features an all-star cast of urban archetypes eager to "keep it real," this is thankfully not the case. You'll take the role of the young Prince Pixel, monarch-to-be of the mighty Canvas Kingdom, who is on a quest to save his parents and his future kingdom. As is usually the case in games of this nature, the peaceful Canvas Kingdom is given a dangerous makeover when an ancient evil is loosed and subsequently nabs Pixel's folks.

Yes, this is all a pretty hefty chore for a prince who's not used to adventuring outside the palace, but, fortunately, a little serendipity mixed with old-fashioned luck winds up leaving the prince well-equipped to face the task at hand. You'll meet up with a "box dog" who turns out to be a loyal companion, although he may be packing a bit more attitude than your average devoted pooch. More importantly, though, Pixel finds a magic wand that lets him bring anything he draws to life, in addition to letting him change into one of three forms of his choosing on the fly. If that's not enough, the veritable Swiss Army wand also lets Pixel temporarily assume the shape of any enemy he encounters, as well as learn the enemy's powers.

While it may sound like Pixel's box dog and magical abilities would tip the odds in his favor on this quest, guess again. As a general rule, recently unleashed ancient evils are in pretty foul moods and are more than willing to dish out the hurt to anyone foolhardy enough to try to thwart their plans. So you can expect to face off against a formidable collection of tough foes, which will range from the cute to the beastly, as you attempt to get through the game's 22 different levels that are broken up into themed areas.

Prince Pixel will be accompanied by his loyal box dog.
Prince Pixel will be accompanied by his loyal box dog.

The core gameplay in Graffiti Kingdom is of the hybrid variety, so it takes platformer and action RPG elements and then enriches them with a refined doodling mechanic. The bulk of your time is going to be spent adventuring through the different areas in the game while bashing your foes and collecting items and experience. The doodling mechanic will come into play by letting you draw alternate shapes to morph into (on the fly) as you go about your business. Besides offering the expected boost to your melee combat, the different shapes will eventually let you perform more-powerful attacks, defend yourself more effectively, and, most importantly, access new areas.

The three different gameplay elements appear to mesh very well, based on our demo. The melee battles we saw yielded experience that powered up our different forms and also let us unlock more doodling tools. As you earn more tools, you'll be able to enhance or overhaul your current forms to gain improved abilities (you'll find up to 160 different attack moves). When you're in a pinch, such as facing off against foes that your current array of forms aren't a match for, you can shift to Pixel and then ding your opponents with your wand. This lets you assume their shapes and powers, which evens up the odds.

Painting the Town Red

Your progression through the game will set you up in inevitable confrontations between Pixel and the various boss characters, who'll obviously try to end your adventure prematurely. The battles will get progressively more challenging as you make your way to the Grand Poo-Bah of Badness, the shadowy ancient evil that started this whole mess. Whether or not Pixel's face-off against the ancient baddie is a triumphant Rocky-style victory or a Bambi-versus-Godzilla-style fiasco rests on your shoulders.

The various critters you can turn into range from the bizarre to the familiar, including some from Taito classics.
The various critters you can turn into range from the bizarre to the familiar, including some from Taito classics.

In addition to the single-player game, you'll also find two extra modes to extend your time in the Canvas Kingdom. A two-player versus mode will let you pit your menagerie of critters against a friend's. You'll be able to transport up to 144 original characters on one memory card, ensuring you can bring your self-made all-star team to a butt-kicking party. Finally, the boss fight battle mode pits you against the bosses you've faced in rapid succession, which truly tests your skills.

The graphics feature a clean, cartoony look. The game is big on style thanks to the inclusion of more than an hour of cinematics. As for the rest of the visuals in the game, Graffiti Kingdom's colorful, interactive locales are well done, as is the menagerie of critters you'll face off against in your adventure. We're especially impressed with the animation, which you won't truly appreciate until you start messing around with the doodling mechanics. Once you create your custom creature, you'll be able to bring it to life by picking from different types of animation routines, which each pack quite a bit of personality.

The audio that we've heard so far is modest, but it's bouncy as all get-out. We didn't hear a ton of speech from Pixel or the rest of the game's cast, although there was a liberal sprinkling of sound bites throughout the action. The sound effects were also low-key, sticking to a fairly tried-and-true assortment of typical "magic" and collision sounds. The tunes are in the happy vein you'd expect, and they present a sound that's true to the look and feel of Graffiti Kingdom.

The new doodling mechanic is a cool element of the game that will surely keep you occupied for a while.
The new doodling mechanic is a cool element of the game that will surely keep you occupied for a while.

Based on this early look, Graffiti Kingdom looks as though it will stand as an engaging follow-up to the promising concepts introduced in Magic Pengel. The depth added by the new RPG elements and the improved pacing seem poised to make Graffiti Kingdom a better overall experience than Pengel was. Better still, the tweaks made to the doodling system will likely tie you up for a fair share of time as you try to make all manner of familiar and insane creations. You'll be able to either modify one of the 220 customizable characters you'll find in the game or make your own. If you enjoyed Magical Pengel, odds are you'll want to keep an eye out for Graffiti Kingdom. If you aren't familiar with the game, you may want to seek this one out, as it should offer an engaging change of pace from most RPGs currently on the market. Graffiti Kingdom is slated to ship in late April for the PlayStation 2.

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