Perhaps in a bid to capitalize on the urban tagging craze, the follow-up to the Japanese game Magic Pengel has been mistranslated as Graffiti Kingdom, calling to mind the gangland turf wars in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. As a result, concerned parents might keep their kids away from a game that could be the best babysitter this side of Mary Poppins. Nothing here remotely resembles graffiti, except for the creative freedom that comes from modifying your surroundings. Though the kiddie platform challenges are abbreviated and often rudimentary—the story mode takes a short afternoon to finish, if that—doodlers of all ages will find endless replay value in the drawing function, which lets you create and build upon your own 3D creatures. Even those who can't draw a lick can mold the crudest of prototypes into elaborate, vividly colorful beasties that can scoot around on anything from wheels to wings, and attack with just as much variety.

A fairy tale told in a squeaky anime voice, the game takes place in the peaceful realm of Canvas Kingdom, where legend has it that warriors expelled the devil a thousand years ago through the power of "graffiti magic." As the mischievous Prince Pixel, you stumble upon the secret chamber where the devil has been kept for centuries, and accidentally liberate him by breaking a magic seal. Within moments, Canvas Kingdom transforms into demon country, and it's up to you to vanquish the evil regime with your newfound graffiti powers. Together with your smack-talking companion Pastel, a box-shaped dog who also functions as a backpack for some reason, you smack around other adorable, easy-to-kill adversaries while working your way through three distinct worlds lorded over by the expected Big Bosses. At any time, you have the option to transform yourself into three different creatures, including custom-made creations, or you can use your powers to turn into the creature you're attacking. Making it through this rat maze isn't much of a challenge, since rapping the punch button will baffle virtually all comers, but at least you can do it in style.

Beyond the gameplay: Like many Japanese games, Graffiti Kingdom is loaded with hilarious, bizarre little flights of fancy, particularly in the devil's army of misfit minions. Any kingdom patrolled by pesky critters like Rejected Cow, Handstand Monkey, and Rainbow Bear can't be all that evil.


Worth playing for: Obsessing over the deep, easy-to-use drawing function is really the only reason to play this game, and the vs. mode lets you pit your homemade creatures against all parties, Battlebots-style. Remember: Go with long arms and long legs. Stumpy monsters are easily thwarted.

Frustration sets in when: Graffiti Kingdom isn't the first game to let you transform into the enemy you're fighting, but it's probably the only one that doesn't include this strategy for stealth reasons. Even if you look exactly like the spongy thingie that's attacking you, it still knows you're an imposter, which makes the transformation pointless.

Final judgment: There's certainly room for improvement in future sequels—namely, a story mode that's worth playing on its own merits—but the freedom to create opens up possibilities that conventional games rarely offer.