If nothing else, Agetec's Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color can be described as quirky. Magic Pengel is a one-of-a-kind title, partially because of its art direction, and partially because of its incredibly unique character-creation system. Whether or not you'll take to Magic Pengel will hinge largely on your tolerance for the game's simplistic fighting system and your appreciation of the game's bizarre, distinctly Japanese style.
The story of Magic Pengel takes place in a Pokémon-esque world where people use Pengels, small fairylike creatures with paintbrushes on their rear ends, to draw doodles, which are crude drawings that jump off the page and magically turn into fully three-dimensional beings. Those with the skills to draw doodles--these people are called doodlers--regularly enter their doodles into friendly, nonlethal combat against other doodles. In this world, you play as an anonymous doodler who befriends a young girl named Zoe and her brother Taro and helps them on their quest to find their father and vanquish the evil government that desires control over all the doodles. The story can be a touch convoluted at times, and it has some none-too-subtle spiritual overtones that may rub some gamers the wrong way, but it's nothing worse than what you'd find in your average bit of anime, and a deep understanding and appreciation of the story isn't necessary to enjoy Magic Pengel as a whole.
The most fully developed aspect of Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is the doodle-creation system. Magic Pengel uses a unique system that is able to turn simple two-dimensional drawings into fully animated 3D models. You start off with just a basic body and a choice of four colors for your doodle, but as you win competitions against other doodles, you'll gain access to more colors and more types of body parts. The size, shape, and placement of parts like arms, legs, and wings will determine your doodle's stats, the way it moves, and how it generally performs in combat, while the colors dictate which kinds of moves your doodle will be most proficient at. You'll eventually be able to have a stable of up to six different doodles, and you can add or remove elements from your doodles whenever you please. Nothing is set in stone with the doodles, and if you don't like what you've created so far, you can scrap it entirely and start anew.
The whole doodle-creation system is incredibly flexible, and the form that your doodles take is truly limited only by what you're able to think up. It might've been nice if the game had included support for a USB mouse, which would've given you more precision when drawing your doodles, but the analog stick on the Dual Shock 2 controller works well enough. The whole process is downright fascinating, and you'll likely spend a large portion of your time while playing Magic Pengel just tweaking the design of your doodles.
The combat system in Magic Pengel is essentially a glorified version of rock-paper-scissors, though with just a smidgen more strategy. The action is turn-based, and on each turn you have four options. You can attack, block, use magic, or charge. Attack, block, and magic are all offensive attacks, and each is strong against one kind of move and weak against another. So, for example, if you choose magic and your opponent chooses attack, your opponent will sustain damage and you'll go unscathed. If both you and your opponent choose the same type of move, both of you will execute your move and sustain damage accordingly. The charge move is outside this little loop, and though it leaves you vulnerable to any kind of attack, you'll regain a few hit points, and your next move will pack a little extra wallop.
There are a few factors that keep the fighting from being entirely luck-based. First off, you're not allowed to perform the same move two turns in a row. Your doodle's stats play a part too, since a doodle with more hit points than the enemy can afford more losing turns. Also, as you develop your doodles, you'll be given more magic options, which can be used to block your enemy's ability to perform certain moves, or to do anything at all, for a few turns. These magic spells can give you a significant tactical advantage, but luck still plays a major role in the fighting system. The major luck factor keeps the fighting system from attaining any real level of depth, and it can make the combat mildly frustrating at times. Considering that combat is the only other real activity in Magic Pengel aside from doodle creation, the game would've seriously benefited from a more robust fighting system. The inclusion of two-player dueling, where you can go head-to-head with another player's doodle, is a decent diversion, but it's simply not enough.
Magic Pengel has an impeccable style, though the game's visuals rely more on thoughtful design elements than raw technical prowess. The environments, particularly the town areas, are incredibly colorful and dense with detail, using lots of small, subtle movement, like spinning windmills, waving grass, and slowly passing clouds, to give the world of Magic Pengel a busy look. The people who populate the game have a highly caricatured, anime-inspired design to them, and the game uses a flat-shading effect and lots of soft pastel colors to further imbue the characters with cartoonlike personality. This same flat-shading effect and a rough black outlining effect are used to make the doodles really look hand-drawn. Though rendered in full 3D, the overall visual style is reminiscent of artfully executed anime films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. In fact, Studio Ghibli, the animation house responsible for those films, also worked on the art direction for Magic Pengel. All in all, Magic Pengel is a great game to look at.
The sound in Magic Pengel helps further the animation-influenced feel of the game, but it's a bit more erratic than the graphics. Most of the voice acting is delivered in a big, exaggerated manner, which generally works within the context of the game, though Taro, the younger brother of Zoe, speaks in a high-pitched screech that is just irritating. There are also some instances of good voice acting being negated by bad dialogue--especially in the case of the fish store owner, who will say "Come see my beautiful fish! Tasty! Yummy!" every time you walk by his store. The music covers a wide range, from the soft acoustic title music to the tense combat music, and though you'll listen to the same tune during every one of the usually lengthy doodle-drawing sessions, it doesn't become overly repetitive. Although diverse and generally well crafted, the sound in Magic Pengel is sort of limited. The characters' speaking parts are recycled often during the fighting segments, there are only a handful of total songs in the game, and ambient sound effects are virtually nonexistent.
There isn't anything else on the market right now quite like Magic Pengel. However, this is probably with good reason, as the appeal of a whimsical anime-inspired game where players design and then do battle with crude childlike drawings is probably pretty limited, and the fact that the activities within the game are rather limited doesn't help matters. Nevertheless, those intrigued by the concept or style should at least give Magic Pengel a try.