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Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color (PlayStation 2) artwork

Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color (PlayStation 2) review

"In case you haven't heard, Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is a role-playing game that eschews the massive world, grand storyline, and extensive inventories so many consider staples of the genre. Instead, it embraces a system through which gamers collect magic crystals and parts, then use them to create just about any character they can imagine. For the first time, we have the chance to play a role-playing game that isn't limited so much by hardware, but rather our own imaginations."

My roommate tried to find the Doodle King using a throbbing, purple...let's just say it's an item you won't find in normal stores and it makes certain types of women very happy. While you puzzle that one out, let me hit you with another odd thought: Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is one of the best games ever created that no one will play.

When I first heard the premise for Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color, I was somewhat skeptical. A role-playing game that allows you to create your own characters? It sounded quite gimmicky, like the kind of project destined to fail. I couldn't imagine how the developers might turn that admittedly intriguing idea into a product that wasn't an unplayable mess. When I saw screenshots, I felt my suspicions had been validated. I was going to pass this one by until the people at the game store I frequent decided to put the title on display. After watching a few of the opening minutes, I decided to plop down the $40.00 it would cost to take this home. Am I glad I did? Yes, I am. Do I think you should do the same? Well...probably.

In case you haven't heard, Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color is a role-playing game that eschews the massive world, grand storyline, and extensive inventories so many consider staples of the genre. Instead, it embraces a system through which gamers collect magic crystals and parts, then use them to create just about any character they can imagine. For the first time, we have the chance to play a role-playing game that isn't limited so much by hardware, but rather our own imaginations.

When you first begin the game, not a lot seems all that out of the ordinary. There's a lengthy script detailing the back story. It proceeds a lot like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. A scroll slides slowly in front of the screen, displaying images while a narrator drones on and the words print at the bottom of the screen. Though the visuals take advantage of all the colors of the rainbow, the narrator's voice made me feel like I had stayed home from school to watch children's public television. Once the story is told, the player is given the opportunity to draw a tiny picture using a small amount of available ink. This tiny picture is known as a doodle.

When the doodle has been created, the player is taken to a grassy field. A girl named Zoe and her kid brother Taro are rushing about, and so is your newly-created doodle. It causes Zoe to fall in the water, there's a dog, and chaos ensues in general. All of this is presented in an extremely childish manner. The visuals throughout are very vibrant, simple but far more effective than you might imagine. When that ends, though, the game starts to get seriously cool.

You will quickly learn that doodles are the absolute core of Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color. Though the term might seem insulting and even childish, it's actually quite appropriate. A doodle is really just a drawing in a magical book. Once a 'doodle' is made in that book, it comes to life and you can use it to battle doodles others have created in various arenas. As your doodle fights, it gains experience that helps it to slowly grow stronger so it can face more challenging opponents. Up to three doodles may be seen in a party at one time, and a player can create as many as 200 doodles before running out of space on the memory card. These doodles help the player progress through the game. Even cooler is the fact that if you somehow find a friend who also has this game, you can take doodles from your memory card and use them to fight doodles from his memory card. This way, you can see who really knows the most about creating doodles.

And there is a lot to know. When you first begin the game, drawing your doodle consists of making a blob that serves as the body, then adding another detail or two and growling in frustration because you've run out of ink. As you progress through the game, the amount of ink you can use increases, and you can draw new parts: arms, legs, a head, wings, a weapon, rotating pieces and more. You can assemble your doodle just about any way you fancy, with two wheels at the bottom of a pole, or wings coming out of its head, or just about anything else that comes to mind. Try and get too detailed and you'll meet with frustration, but the level of depth permitted is actually quite impressive from a technical standpoint.

Assembling all the right pieces is quite challenging. The position of one piece in relation to another is going to affect how well your doodle functions. For example, you can put two rotating pieces next to each other for an increase in speed. A weapon can only be added if an available arm is selected. You can never use more than a certain amount of ink for a single body part, either. But there are other limitations and considerations, as well. The color of ink you use goes a long way toward determining your doodle's stats. Use a lot of red and you'll attack well and have a large life meter, but you won't necessarily be all that good at blocking or casting spells. The best doodles are a delicate balance of all colors.

The end result is that drawing doodles is both extremely rewarding and, at times, quite frustrating. Suppose for a minute you want to make an enormous basketball for your character. Well, that means battling quite a bit to save up on orange ink (though, thankfully, you can generally tell which battles will give you which ink color). So you save up the orange ink, you create your character, and then you find out his defense is horrific. You're now stuck adding tufts of hair and appropriately-colored arms to compensate.

In this way, the game almost rewards you for taking a perfectly good design and spoiling it. The easiest way to success is actually to create a huge, multi-colored blob. This is somewhat disappointing, but a necessary evil if the game is to have the depth that will prevent the whole doodle angle from being a gimmick.

Someplace more of those efforts at depth might have come in handy is the battle system. What a fight amounts to in this game is a rock/paper/scissors duel with a defensive option thrown in for good measure. The first round of any battle is a huge guess. You can either block, attack, or use magic. Your opponent, meanwhile, will be making the same guess. Suppose you start with a block. You're then hoping your opponent will use a magic spell, or will also block. This is because if a spell is used, you will reflect it back at your opponent. If a block is used, you will both damage one another. If your opponent chooses an outright physical attack, though, you're going to get smacked and he won't take any damage at all. Magic beats attack beats block beats magic. It's a ring with a bump on the edge, because after the first move there is another option called 'charge.' When you use charge, you restore a small percentage of your maximum health meter, and you also brace yourself to do twice the normal damage with a physical attack on the next turn. The value of this all is lessoned by the fact that you can almost never recover as much life as your opponent can deal damage, and if you charge one round your opponent will know to expect a physical attack the next. About the only time this move is really sensible is if your opponent is paralyzed and you have been damaged. You then can restore some health and attack the next round with a more powerful blow. It's also a reasonable option if you have no clue what your foe will do next.

However, the battle system is such that generally, you do have a fairly good idea of which move will involve the least risk. This is because if your opponent uses a block one turn, he will not have the option of using it on the next (with the exception of three-on-three battles, where you might find yourself blocking with one character, dying, then bringing in a new character for the next round and using him to block, as well). The few new wrinkles to the old rock/paper/scissors game do make for at least some depth, but you may tire of the typical round consisting of you starting out by blocking, then attacking, then using a spell, then either repeating the cycle or using 'charge' because your opponent has managed to break free of the loop.

The thing is, you won't ever get truly tired of it all because by the time you do, the game is over. I was quite surprised by how small this title really is. There are basically six areas: the field where you start (where you can save and create new doodles), the lower cliffs with the seaside arena, the crowded marketplace, and a few other battle locations. If you're in the mood, you can blow through almost all of it in just a few short hours once you're used to the combat system and doodle creation in general. This is because rather than rewarding you for endless level building, the game instead encourages you to modify your doodles with more ink as you go along. This is the only way to make significant changes to your stats. You can do more that way in five minutes than you can after five hours of combat.

Blowing through the game like you're on fire will mean you're missing the point, however. You might see most everything the game explicitly offers, but you will have missed the true magic. There's more to like than the organic, highly detailed marketplace and arena scenes. The true fun lies in battling each potential opponent, growing used to his or her quirks, laughing as your foe tells you through a noticeable scowl that he doesn't mind losing because he is having a good time. The developers put a lot of attention into these small details. About the only place where they really faltered is the translation.

To put it plainly, the translation job here is quite bad. That's true both of the audio and the text. While it's true that each character is very unique, the voices are sometimes so bland that you wish a different actor had hired on to perform more roles. The singer you might fight will make you laugh, then you'll find yourself falling to sleep as a character introduced around 30% of the way through the game launches into another long speech. If you're reading everything, it only gets worse. Periods are often missing. Sometimes a comma is included instead, or sometimes there's no punctuation at all. Words are misspelled. It looks like Agetec hired one person to handle the whole localization, and the only person around was learning English from a fifth grader.

In the end, none of these complaints really prevent Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color from being a truly unique and highly enjoyable title. If you can grin and bear the sometimes overly cutesy presentation, you'll find a game with more options for customization than us lowly gamers deserve (and besides, you can make some disgusting doodles as compensation). Considering the fact that Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color currently retails for $40 and can keep the creative gamer busy long after the storyline has come to its conclusion, a purchase seems the obvious decision. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get back to adding those wiggly parts to my doodle's body and watching the way they bounce.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 10, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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