I always seem to work best on these articles late at night, or rather early in the morning. As the clock to my left inches towards 3am – and will probably have passed it by the time I finish typing up this new Shelf Life – I wonder why I always seem to be the most creative when I am at my most sleep-deprived. I also wonder what dreams I’ll have tonight that I’ll forget entirely upon waking up. All these thoughts seem to lead me quite nicely onto Graffiti Kingdom, considering it’s all about beating up oddball enemies with characters that you draw using your Playstation 2 joysticks. My stick figure character brandishing a badly-drawn sword doesn’t reveal much master-artist potential, but luckily the game doesn’t provide a crowd of oddly-drawn judges to score me on my character design.
Letting my mind wander on the subject won’t paint a sufficiently detailed picture of the game for you, however, so I will start at the beginning. The game is called Graffiti Kingdom, if you haven’t already gathered, and it’s a lovely little gem made by Taito Corporation. The story of the game is a simple one. Prince Pixel is the somewhat strange – and rather effeminate – young protagonist, a troublemaker with spiky hair. The game begins with him goofing around in the only sensible place for a young child to be: clinging to the outside of one of the castle’s grand towers, high above a perilous drop.
Voice acting in this game is at the low end of the food chain, and this becomes painfully obvious during the intro video. Pixel falls through a secret hole in the wall, landing on a slide that takes him down to the bottom of the tower’s interior. There, he finds himself floating magically above a mysterious paintbrush with a palette shoved through it. Naturally, his first instinct – instead of wondering where the heck he is, and why somebody thought this was practical for making art – is to pick up the tool and wave it around, because there’s nothing better to do in a dark castle that obviously doesn’t play host to any form of terrible evil.
During his screw-around session, Pixel realizes that his newfound wand can make pretty colors in the air. With this in mind, he continues to wave it around until he accidentally brings to life a talking brick-dog by the name of Pastel. Pastel tries in vain to make Pixel stop playing around with the wand, and with that, the cliché-ridden plot gets underway. With an errant swing of the wand, Pixel creates a ball with a mind of its own that goes shooting off straight for a hole in the wall. This hole, unfortunately, serves no purpose other than to bring an evil demon lord back to life, so that it may take over the castle and imprison all of Pixel’s loved ones.
The fun thing about Pixel is that he doesn’t really seem to care very much about the whole affair throughout the game. There aren’t any more real important details about the plot that I can really tell you. Well, there is the other cliché device of having to defeat three bosses and gather three keys before he can go fight the devil himself, but that is less of a plot point and more of a game mechanic.
As you can probably guess, the worth of the game is not in its brilliant story. Enjoyment can still be found, though. The voice acting is fun to listen to just because it’s so laughably bad, the character creation mechanics – though hard to master – are great fun, and the 3D beat-em-up-platforming combat is pretty good. Enemies are all limited to a small number of repeated attacks, meaning that a lot of the gameplay is quickly learning enemy patterns and using them to your advantage with your three always-accessible combat characters.
The boss enemies tend to be challenging when you first fight them, as their more intricate patterns are harder to exploit. They take a while to take down, like a good boss should, and feel rewarding to defeat. They also offer the largest haul of experience orbs, which allow you to level up and gain more part to customize your characters with.
The fourth boss of the game, however, is quite an annoyance. Telepin’s cutscene makes him out to be a weakling, with another recurring demon character even chiming in solely to hint that Telepin should lose deliberately. I always wonder whether they were making you underestimate him on purpose, however, as he’s by far the hardest boss in the game.
Telepin’s boss fight is set in a circular room divided into three tiers of differing height. Each layer is itself split into different segments that are either blank or adorned with an elemental symbol. Every five or so seconds the sections of the three rings flash in a spinning pattern, slot machine style, showing which element will activate that turn. This determines the flavor of a wide-radius elemental blast that only damages the player. The spinning always starts in the far ring, then moves to the middle ring, then the center before repeating. The three rings of elemental attacks on their own are actually not that bad; they aren’t the hardest to avoid if you pay attention, and they don’t do excessive amounts of damage.
The part of Telepin’s stage that makes it so irritatingly hard is Telepin himself. In stark contrast to his cutscene, Telepin enters the battle perched atop a large flailing mess of blades; a spinning contraption that I can’t for the life of me describe with any degree of accuracy. The closest comparison I can make is if Dr. Robotnik – throwing his arms in the air, screaming “screw everything” – attached every bladed contraption he could find to a spinning orb, electrified half of them, froze others, and set the rest on fire, before jumping in and dancing the hovering deathtrap around like a madman.
Telepin begins every match (and trust me, there will be more than one) in the center of his room. The hitbox of his attacks is rather hard to determine, but he when he does attack, he doesn’t often miss. As with his arena, each of Telepin’s strikes is imbued with a different element; whether it be lightning that paralyzes you and causes you to move as slow as molasses, fire that forces you to run around for a period of time unable to attack or jump, or ice that freezes you in place. On top of his constant slashes, Telepin is also able to continuously perform a dodge move that involves him spinning around and laughing at you, gaining a temporary second of invulnerability to all attacks. Lastly, Telepin also carries a shield ability which, when used, allows him to also block any attack you could possibly hit him with. Whenever Telepin successfully blocks oe of your attacks, he will do one of two things in the brief second that you are unable to move; either he hits you for a good dose of damage or, if you’re lucky, he just dances off, invulnerable once again, as he laughs at the thought of your inevitable death at his hands.
Eventually I beat Telepin. I had already learned his bullcrap abilities well during my first couple of attempts, and I brought out my most powerful character in order to speed up the battle. Regardless, Telepin serves as an example of how a good boss probably shouldn’t be, unless your goal is to make players tear their hair out. He can be beaten, sure, but he’d be a much less infuriating boss if they’d just remove one of his advantages. Take away his shield and I would have had a fun time against him.
Despite Telepin as a boss and the lacklustre plot, I can honestly recommend you pick this game up if you’re in the market for an old, relatively odd PS2 game. It’s quite fun to play, an it’s impossible not to laugh at the fact that many of the (ostensibly male) characters have female voice actors, and don’t even try very hard to disguise it.
Now, please excuse me while I go draw more 3D stick figures.