Magic Pengel: Quest for Color

In order to fully enjoy Magic Pengel: Quest for Color, you'll need plenty of creativity and patience in equal measure. In the end, though, it's not really worth it.

The concept behind the game is great, very similar to something like Drawn to Life or Spore crossed with Pokemon. Also like Spore and Drawn to Life, Magic Pengel takes a fascinating concept and proceeds to do nothing interesting with it. Really, is it really that hard for developers to understand that even if you have a great concept, it's the actual design and gameplay of the title that matters the most? It shouldn't be hard to understand, but not only does it persist as a problem in the industry, but it's actually getting worse as time goes by.

The concept here is thus: the game takes place in a world where Pengels, disturbing baby-faced fairy-like creatures with paintbrushes affixed to their bottoms, are used by humans to draw creatures called Doodles, which magically come to life. Doodles are used to fight each other ala Pokemon, and bring color to the world. Okay, so the world and story are rather lame, but the idea of creating your own battle-ready creatures by drawing them is a great one. There's more to the story, about a girl and her brother fighting to save their home from the evil Kingdom and a mysterious boy with strange powers, but it's not really very interesting. It tries to involve the player more in the plot by having a first-person perspective, but as the player-character is voiceless, faceless, and lacks a direct involvement or motivation in the story, it ends up having the opposite effect. The best way to describe the overall quality of the story would be "Miyazaki done badly."

Parts of the story that could have been effective are ruined by truly horrid voice-acting, and they don't even seem to be trying to match up to the mouth animations of the characters. There are a ridiculous number of instances in which mouths move for a long time after characters have stopped speaking. Character models are done in a colorful anime style, but look blocky, and the character designs are unremarkable. The music is actually pretty good, but most of it just blends into the background and isn't given enough prominence. The two English vocal songs that appear in the game, however, are horrible.

Drawing Doodles is fun, supplying a lot of potential for creativity, but the interface has several flaws that can make it a pain to work with. I'd like to say that you could potentially make anything, more-so even than in Spore, but the controls are too restrictive. It would have helped a ton to have more tools to work with, as essential and basic features such as the ability to zoom in and out, or to select, move, or delete separate parts, are missing entirely. You're also working with a 3-D object in a 2-D plane, and it's awful. Often when you draw a part, it will end up in the entirely wrong spot from where you wanted it, and you can't move it because of the lack of tools! It's also needlessly difficult to get rotating parts spinning in the intended direction.

Even when it's frustrating, it can be gotten used to, and there are still a lot of options. It's a joy simply seeing your creations move around. Different parts and types of doodles grant different abilities, so there is some reward to making your Doodles unique and creative. It's tempting to just make a big blob or randomly combine abstract shapes into a horrifying mess, but the most enjoyment to be had in the game comes when you really put time and effort into your Doodle creations.

However, despite what the creation mode brings to the table, it's not enough to make the game great, or even good. The problem is, and I hate to repeat myself from my Spore review but, once you've made your creatures, there's not much to do with them. The only thing to do with them, in fact, is to battle with other characters and their pre-made doodles. The battle system, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired. It basically amounts to a glorified version of rock-paper-scissors, where magic beats attack, attack beats block, and block beats magic. For the first couple of battles, it actually seems like there could be a good bit of depth to this system, what with the great variety of Doodles you can make, and the many different types of spells. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that every battle can be won with the same strategies, there's very little difference in the way opponents can fight, and once you figure out certain tricks it's nearly impossible to lose a fight. It all adds up to a lack of depth, and it's also rather unbalanced.

The game has obvious Pokemon envy, but they should have considered copying those games in the one area they didn't: exploration. It could be that the world of Doodles is expansive and fascinating, but we may never know as the entire game takes place in 5 teeny-tiny areas, some more teeny-tiny than others. There's the market-place, sea-side, main arena, home, and castle. There's not really a lot of exploring to be done, however, as the plot progresses in a painfully straight-forward and linear manner: a series of battles, set up as a tournament. Most annoying about this is that if you want to make new doodles to use in the next battle, you must go all the way back to the home area, the only place where you can draw doodles. Why can't you just make Doodles at any time? Maybe the lack of depth in exploration is a good thing, considering that what exploring there is is handled from an unwieldy first-person perspective. There's at least one point in the game where I couldn't tell where I was supposed to go due to this wonky perspective.

The game obviously expects you to make some sort of connection with the people of the market-place. Everyone has a name and a job, and almost anyone can be challenged to a duel with their Doodles. But really, with the combination of the first-person perspective and the all around uninteresting story, it's hard to be engaged in this world or the characters that inhabit it. Throughout the game, I found myself unable to tell several characters apart in appearance or personality, and many of them are just annoying. I could swear that several characters don't appear until very late in the plot, and yet the game acts as though they were there the whole time.

Perhaps because of the linear progression of both gameplay and plot, the game puts many restrictions in place to prevent you from becoming too powerful too quickly. You must unlock different types of parts by winning tournament matches. There's also the restriction of color gems: in order to make parts of a certain color, the player must have color gems of that color. More gems are gained, like everything else in the game, by winning battles. Although the intended purpose of these restrictions is obvious, their actual effect proves to be a restriction on creativity. There is also an RPG-like aspect of gaining experience from battles, and all the emphasis on fighting becomes very tired very quickly. The game is rather short, with its small game world, padded out by story scenes and the occasional experience or color gem grinding sessions. Short and tedious, not a good combination at all.

Magic Pengel had the potential to be a great, unique experience. As is, it's little more than a mildly interesting diversion. Only for the curious and creative, but even then, don't expect too much.