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RKGK / Rakugaki review – graffiti platform action

RKGK / Rakugaki review – graffiti platform action
RKGK / Rakugaki – a very impressive indie debut (Gearbox Publishing)

A new indie developer channels Jet Set Radio and Hi-Fi Rush while still bringing something new to the table in this stylish new 3D platformer.

Rakugaki (also known by the vowel-averse moniker RKGK) started life, according to Mexican developer Wabisabi Games, as a tribute to many things: anime and manga, graffiti culture, electronic music, and 90s platform games. So perhaps its most impressive feat is that it has a distinct and unmistakable personality of its own, and that it feels coherent and focused, rather than a muddled mishmash.

While many of those influences feed into its visuals it’s clear when you play Rakugaki that in terms of feel, it’s determined to evoke classic platform games of yore. The general anime overtones fuse with traditional Mexican art to generate a hyper-colourful, stylised look reminiscent of the likes of Hi-Fi Rush and Jet Set Radio .

Its gameplay also brings to mind a game Wabisabi hasn’t cited as an influence: Splatoon . That stems from the general premise of its storyline, where you play as Valah, a rebellious graffiti artist in a dystopian city ruled by the evil Mr Buff, who has busied himself by installing screens everywhere that brainwash the city’s inhabitants into becoming boring conformists.

The story could easily have developed into a commentary on modern obsessions with phone screens but Wabisabi clearly had no interest in making Rakugaki’s story anything but frothy – it merely exists as a way of facilitating the action.

Valah tackles the city area by area, graffitiing over Mr Buff’s screens, destroying devices he has installed and, at the end of each area, fighting boss battles which destroy the tethers anchoring the platform on which he is hiding.

Each of the game’s six areas has a number of stages you must get through and you’re awarded a graffiti point for every screen Valah paints over, and three for the giant screens which, cutely, turn into instant party scenes when she daubs them with her spectacular, 3D animated designs.

You need a certain number of graffiti points to unlock each boss battle, but only the most determined speedrunners will find that an issue. Many screens are hidden in obscure and difficult to reach parts of the stages, but those stages are so large, elaborate, and well-designed that it’s difficult to avoid the temptation to explore.

Each stage comes with a number of challenges which earn you rewards – mainly in the form of Ghosts, the game’s rarest currency – including rewards for fast completion times, eliminating particular numbers of enemies, and graffitiing over all the screens. These challenges also bring some decent incentives to replay the stages, which is welcome.

RKGK / Rakugaki – the platforming is great (Gearbox Publishing)

Of course, you wouldn’t think about replaying stages if the gameplay wasn’t fun, but Valah has a great set of moves. These include plenty of platform gaming staples: a double jump, wall-jumping, an unusually far-reaching melee, and a slide that enables her to duck under objects.

Because she goes everywhere with a drone called Ayo in tow, Valah also has some more unique moves. Two of which are paint-based, hence the parallels with Splatoon: a hover jump and a very Splatoon-like move which sees her surfing on paint (handy, for example, on electrified surfaces). She also has an air dash which, in combination with her paint-hover, lets her cover considerable mid-air distances.

These moves, and an additional ability to latch onto rails, mean that you can really flow through the levels, with considerable grace. Although you often encounter Mr Buff’s killer robots, employed to keep the masses in line. Cleverly, many of those can be destroyed by Valah’s paint-hover move, although some enemies have umbrella shields above them, in which case you must drop down to their level and melee them.

Even dealing with enemies in Rakugaki has an elegance to it and that is especially true when you build up a meter by pulling off moves and trigger Defacer mode, in which Valah’s abilities are enhanced and she adds an automatic forward-melee to her paint-surfing, so she can effectively bulldoze enemies. In Defacer mode, the general intensity ramps up in a satisfying manner, but if you take a hit you will drop out of it and go back to normal movement.





While Wabisabi Games suggest that Rakugaki could be completed in just six hours, in practice it feels more substantial than that, especially given the game’s demonstrable replay value. The whole game feels solidly and thoughtfully designed: its difficulty curve is spot-on, steadily ramping without annoying spikes. The boss battles are unconventional, generally involving periods of attack-avoidance before Valah can go on the offensive and are memorably varied rather than just being cosmetically different.

The same can be said of the stages themselves: Valah accesses some of them via a VR headset, allowing Wabisabi’s level designers to let their imaginations run wild with some pretty out-there ideas, such as a stage with rising water levels and one that takes place in darkness – at least until you splash a load of paint around. In general, Rakugaki’s all-important level design lives up to that of the 90s classic platformers it aims to emulate, which is quite an achievement.

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While it is perhaps more substantial than expected, Rakugaki is still not a particularly long game by bloated modern standards, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism, and at least it doesn’t contain any filler. The music – psy-trance that sometimes strays into drum and bass territory – is pretty decent too, and there are some cute outfits on offer, including one which makes Ayo look like a spherical pug.

Overall, RKGK / Rakugaki is a proper, challenging platform game with great, often eye-popping visuals and, most importantly, a unique and distinctive personality of its own. Beyond a vague anti-dystopian rebelliousness, it doesn’t try to hammer home any particular philosophical point; instead, it just concentrates on delivering old school style platforming gameplay, with a few twists of its own, in a small but perfectly formed game world. Those who see themselves as fans of platform games should appreciate that.




RKGK / Rakugaki review summary In Short: A clever of mix of new and old that blends together several different platforming greats but still maintains a distinctive identity of its own.
Pros: Stylish visuals and top notch level design. Some clever paint-based platforming moves, solid boss battles, and an impressive amount of replayability.
Cons: Not the longest game in the world and the storyline is rather basic.
Score: 8/10



Formats: PC Price: £16.49 Publisher: Gearbox Publishing Developer: Wabisabi Games Release Date: 22nd May 2024 Age Rating: 12

RKGK / Rakugaki – a great blend of modern and retro (Gearbox Publishing)

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