RKGK / Rakugaki Review – Tagged All Over

Video games and graffiti are a combination that brings out the bizarre and exciting. From the vibrant and timeless Jet Set Radio, last year’s hit Hi-Fi Rush, to striking indie aesthetics of titles like Sludge Life and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk—street art aesthetics not only expand into some of the most vivid worlds the medium has ever seen but also work in tandem with their imaginative gameplay. Seeing Rakugaki’s announcement trailer, I was hoping for another, similarly innovative twist on this proven formula, but unfortunately got something surprisingly unremarkable instead.

On the surface, Rakugaki mesmerizes with its use of color. Movement and combat leave behind a trail of paint, and the player character Valah and her robot companion Ayo can leave behind unique, great-looking pieces, covering up the TVs of the dark and sad city under the regime of Mr. Buff. While there are moments where, looking back at my path left me impressed by the physical change I left behind, often it would also remind me of how unremarkable traversing that path was.

A graffiti of a cook making noodles
I wish I could say that letting them cook more would help the game, but I am simply not sure

At its core, the movement here just fails to excite. Trying to move fast on the ground, one of the playstyles incentivized through speed medals at the end of a stage, means constantly using the one, slippery charge move. Preserving momentum in the air is a lot more enjoyable, with a glide, mid-air attack, and double jump, allowing Valah to traverse quite a distance when chained together. Unfortunately, they do not provide any momentum, meaning that everything will ultimately return to the much less varied ground traversal.

Spicing it up are rails, which are hands-off, and combat, ranging from mind-numbing typical 3D platformer combat to a frustrating bullet hell that goes against the otherwise effortless sense of pace present throughout the rest of the level. Nothing exemplifies the latter better than the boss fights, which eventually become these hardcore difficulty spikes dedicated to precision in a game where the fastest movement method is purposefully imprecise.

Sliding while leaving a trail of green paint
I get the risk/reward idea behind the charge, I just don’t think that slipperiness is a fun risk factor for the game

Not helping with the challenge is the wonky camera, which switches from player-controller to a fixed one depending on the situation. Aside from pre-determined close-ups after cutscenes painting a huge, moving graffiti, it tends to remain very zoomed out. It also tends to move through walls instead of staying behind the character, which altogether creates a cold, impersonal feeling to its sprawling levels as the player searches for the hundreds of collectibles hidden throughout.

The completionist experience of Rakugaki feels quite miserable, possibly some of the worst since Crash 4: It’s About Time. I finished the game with around 35% completion, partly by choice, and partly due to bugs. There are several different kinds of completion marks and collectibles: three levels of timer challenges, collecting every coin, destroying every enemy, getting an S rank, painting all the graffiti spots, finishing without dying, and collecting three hidden ghosts.

A reward screen filled with numbers and checkmarks
My eyes started to glaze over all of this info at some point

About halfway through the game, I started noticing that half of the hidden graffiti spots in each level would simply not trigger. This is something I am sure will be patched out as soon as possible, but it was merely a cherry on top of what was already an incredibly frustrating time trying to go through these checklists. Collecting over a thousand coins in every level meant finding not just them, but also destroying every small, red box and defeating nearly every enemy. Did you miss even one? Well, have fun going through the whole linear level again, in which most of the time you cannot retrace your steps!

Even the placement of these feels discouraging, as many times they’re purposefully hidden behind or under a place you’d already checked, obfuscated from view in an already zoomed-out camera. It feels like you should be able to see so much, but things are easy to miss in all the motion blur and poor color coding. Sometimes red will mean an enemy, which is a bad thing, sometimes it will mean a box with coins inside, which is a good thing, and sometimes it will just be a random light or other background object, which is nothing.

A dark virtual world with dark tentacles in the background
The virtual worlds, though very random in the story, allowed for some of the coolest backgrounds in the game

Bringing down my mood even further was the story and its presentation. There are the pre-bossfight cutscenes in the form of a voiced slide presentation, overlong text boxes that are written like a transcript of a voiced conversation, but without a voice, and incredibly basic themes and sentiments repeated ad nauseam in every single line of dialogue. What feels worse than anything is just how much better the post-boss cutscenes look, employing a similar strategy of slides, but with a whole new art style, character designs, and slight animation.

Going back to the main gameplay loop after that, working through levels with the effects overpowering the music by using the same slippery, kind of slow moveset and beating up a few enemies along the way. Maybe I would get hit while misjudging the distance due to the camera and losing out on the special mode which provides a speed boat and changes the color of the used paint. All only to see some drab conversation between Valah and Mr. Buff. Everything feels infinitely draining to the point where upon reaching the post-game bonus level and failing to spray yet another graffiti spot due to a bug, I simply turned off the game.

Yeah, sure, I wanna deal with all that (not)

Thinking back, it was not all bad times. Some levels truly did stand out among the rest, primarily ones about climbing where I could make use of the more robust aerial movement system, and where I could back from above at the paint I left behind. The graffiti art is genuinely great and being able to customize that even a little bit by choosing three signature designs was a great touch. Plus, even though I quickly decided against completing the game, I still ended up collecting as many coins and completing at least some of the challenges so that I could unlock the genuinely fantastic costumes and outfits.

I love the idea behind Rakugaki, a rebel group fighting against corporations through colors and a punk attitude, but I am ultimately left extremely disappointed. To see so much of the game left for me to explore, and no will left to return to it, is one of the worst feelings with a platformer. With an abundance of new, high-quality releases, Rakugaki feels like graffiti that will soon be tagged over.

Mateusz reviewed RKGK / Rakugaki on PC with a review code.

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