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RKGK

RKGK Preview: Graffiti has never looked so grand

Even Banksy would be proud of the work of Valah, the protagonist of Wabisabi Games' upcoming 3D platformer.

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There's no denying that 3D platformers have been geared and tailored to younger audiences for quite some time. That's not say that only kids play 3D platformers because that's far from the truth, but whether it's Ratchet & Clank, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo-Kazooie, Sonic the Hedgehog, the list goes on, 3D platformers have tended to have a design style and theme that befits younger folk.

The Latin American Wabisabi Games is looking to turn that idea on its head with its upcoming 3D platformer RKGK (also known as Rakugaki). This is a title set in a metropolis where creativity and personality has been sapped from the people by an evil and greedy corporate overlord known as Mr. Buff. As the young Valah and her robot companion AYO, your goal is to break down Mr. Buff's oppression through artistic expression by travelling around the city and painting over the many mind-controlling, Big Brother-like monitors and billboards scattered around, defacing them with colourful, vibrant, and chaotic Japanese-inspired graffiti.

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In many ways, RKGK is a bit like a mature take on De Blob. Yes, that is perhaps a strange comparison, but both games see you suiting up as a protagonist where the aim is to fight oppression by painting and colouring your surroundings. RKGK features similar brutalist architecture devoid of charisma and downtrodden and crushed citizens that need to be freed from their turmoil, and quite frankly this as a core premise works like a charm. RKGK doesn't need a complex and emotionally challenging narrative to be entertaining, instead it leaves that goal to the fluid and smooth mechanics that align and excel in the ways that all good 3D platformers should.

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Valah can do all the traditional movement techniques, including double jumping, sliding, gliding, and even wall-jumping, but she also can employ Splatoon-like abilities that enable her to skate through each level, leaving a trail of paint behind her. This surfing technique directly plays into the flow of RKGK, as this is a platformer that is all about chaining abilities and exploration together in a seamless manner, to beat levels as fast as possible and without taking hits. If you do so, you can essentially endlessly surf, but should you collide with an environmental hazard or an enemy, your flow will shatter and you'll need to collect coins, paint cans, defeat enemies, smash crates, deface billboards, and so forth all to work towards regaining Defacer Mode state once again.

The levels are quite straightforward in their design. They're self-contained levels featuring verticality, grind rails, varying enemy types, a plentiful array of hazards (including bottomless drops and searing hot crates) that each last around 10 minutes in duration if you're exploring frequently and attempting to unearth every secret. Wabisabi Games has done a good job at cramming levels with secrets that are admittedly quite challenging to dig up, alongside a slate of extra challenges that more often than not will require you to return and replay levels for the elusive 100% mark. These include beating a level within a certain time, defacing every possible billboard, defeating every enemy, collecting every coin, and even finding all of the Ghost collectibles, which are more often than not the best hidden collectibles out of them all. You'll know where you stand on each of these tasks at the end of a level when a completion screen is presented and you're rewarded with a Sonic the Hedgehog-style rank for your efforts.

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You might be wondering why - besides the sake of being a completionist - you would bother collecting all of these various items in each level. Between levels Valah will return to a hub area where she can interact with vendors to acquire cosmetics, such as new outfits or appearances for her drone companion AYO. You can even unlock new graffiti artwork to deface the world with, and even new paint trails to leave behind when surfing, all in an effort to bring some more life to the dismal landscape that is Cap City. And don't be worried about microtransactions creeping in here, as Wabisabi Games has confirmed that RKGK will be an entirely offline game with zero online support. Yes, that does mean that there are no leaderboards to compete on, but it also means that there won't be a premium store to try to sell items to you.

New levels in RKGK are unlocked depending on how many billboards you deface in the levels prior, meaning you will need to constantly keep an eye out for hidden ones to continue advancing the story. You'll want to as well because at the end of each main chapter is a boss fight, where Valah is put to the test against one of Mr. Buff's creations. I had the chance to throw hands with a giant metallic sunflower (for lack of a better way to describe it), and this was the first time where I really got a taste of how Wabisabi Games intends to ramp up the challenge, by throwing more hazards than ever at you alongside some new mechanics, as the game progresses.

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One of the strongest aspects for RKGK is its presentation. The polarisation of the drab urban landscape matched up with the colourful impact of Valah and her vibrant and brilliantly animated graffiti make this game a treat for the eyes. But, I do think that RKGK faces a bit of an identity crisis in a way too. It's clearly a platformer tailored to more mature fans, as the theme and narrative and explicit dialogue affirms, yet the gameplay does often feel a bit too rudimentary and basic. Again, 3D platformers don't need to have the depth of a Soulslike to be entertaining to adults, but I do think there's a distinct difference between how challenge is offered and the audiences these games look to target. I.e. Crash Bandicoot is much more geared to older audiences than Spyro the Dragon due to its challenge and intricacies, even if both franchises are loved by all. RKGK faces similar issues in that it's very basic in a gameplay sense yet has a story that almost feels like a less brutal and cartoon-take on Ghostrunner. Sure, the difficulty options do help to up the challenge a tad, but since this seems to be a 3D platformer for older folk, I think there could have been more risks taken with its core gameplay.

Yet none of this changes the fact that RKGK came across as a very entertaining platformer during the few levels that I had the luxury to test. RKGK was brought to life and made possible through the aid of the Riot Games Underrepresented Founders Program that has pledged $10 million to start-ups and smaller founders around the world, and with the financial support of said programme, I think Wabisabi Games has delivered enough unique elements and themes here to allow the game to stand out and thrive and be something that people should be keeping an eye on when it makes its debut on PC this summer.

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