If there’s one thing we’ve learned about games in the last few years, it’s that the populace has an insatiable appetite for monsters. The hundreds of Pokémon released (and continually re-released) by Nintendo were just an appetizer. Monster Rancher tried to satisfy by generating monsters from the ID tracks of CDs. Garakuta Studios takes a slightly different approach to the problem, choosing to teach a kid to fish by giving her the ability to just design their own monsters in Magic Pengel: The Quest For Color.

As befits a game that’s essentially an electronic box of crayons, the graphics in Magic Pengel have a bright, storybook feel to them. The game’s opening sequence looks and sounds like an episode of Reading Rainbow — sans Levar Burton, sadly — and sets a relaxed tone for the game. The game’s seaside village setting, full of friendly (yet monocolloquial) NPCs, is also a pleasant space. It’s kind of jarring to realize that the story set in such a mellow environment revolves around pitting animals in combat and rebellion against an oppressive military regime, but after all, when doesn’t a nice cockfighting tournament constitute good clean family fun?

The story isn’t the main draw of the game, though: it’s just an excuse to drag the player into a large tournament. Fighting for you in the tournament are doodles, animals which are created from drawings you make in a magical sketchbook. The sketchbook interface is where the interesting things happen. The objects you draw in the sketchbook are animated and turned into animals that walk, jump, dance, and — most importantly — fight. Different body shapes and colors give doodles different offensive and defensive abilities: a doodle with strong thick arms will have the Double Punch skill, while a one-legged doodle may have a Mini-Kick attack.

Once you’ve drawn a doodle, you can take it to the local arena and engage other doodlers in battle. The combat system in Magic Pengel is very simple: you can attack, block, use magic, or charge up. Physical attacks always beat blocks, blocks always beat magic, magic always beats attacks, and charging up skips a turn to make the next move stronger. The entire system is simply rock/scissors/paper; winning in battle depends not on your doodle’s abilities or shape, but on your luck in second-guessing the AI’s next move. Needless to say, it doesn’t make for epic duels of the Soul Calibur sort. It doesn’t even make for epic duels of the Roshambo sort.

Unfortunately, battling is pretty much all you’ll be doing in this game. The attraction of Magic Pengel is the ability to draw doodles, but your ability is severely hampered early on. At the beginning of the game, you can only draw a torso, arms, and horns on your doodle. The ability to draw other body parts is gained by leveling your Pengel up, which requires you to gain experience by winning arena matches. You also gain coloring material when you win a battle, allowing you to draw more doodles with a broader palette of colors. But since battling is essentially a crapshoot, you’ll end up losing nearly as many matches as you win, making development a long and tedious process.

It’s a pity the battles are so poor, because the only urge greater than the desire to see an entertaining fight between monsters is the urge to create something fun and attractive. Garakuta seems to have grasped the latter, but lost sight of the former in the process.