Drawn to Life
Reviewed by Edmund Wong, March 2008
When was the last time you, as a player, get to draw your own protagonist, or the weapon you wield, or the platform you step on? Most likely never.
Drawn to Life uses one of the unique features of the DS - the touch screen - to allow the players to design, create and color in their own creations. No other games allow such freedom. Would the players enjoy controlling stick figure as much as they enjoy drawing the said stick figure? Would they enjoy the drawing more, or the actual gameplay?
The Book of Life contains everything that the Creator - that's you - has ever created for the rabbit like creatures called Raposa. Much like every other species on Earth, or on the Raposa planet, as for that matter, it only takes one bad seed to ruin the good. And Wilfre is that bad seed. He is too smart for his own good. Wilfre questioned the Creator's authority and drawn in the Book of Life which he stole. Lack of divine power caused Wilfre to turn evil. When confronted, he torn up the Book of Life and escaped the village. From that day on, dark clouds befall the village and suck the life out of the once bristling place. The villagers leave town in doves to find a better place.
At the start of the game, you, the Creator, who have been ignoring the Raposa's prayers for aeons suddenly found the heart to answer them again. You decided to create a hero (or heroes) to revive the Raposa village. And so your story begins. It is a very typical straightforward good guys vs. bad people story aimed at children. Good guys represented by the cute looking rabbit ears Raposa, and the bad people being represented by dark shadows. Nothing is out of the unexpected and everything unfolds like what you would expect in a kids game.
Drawn to Life boasts about the ability for you to create your own things, but that is only one third of the story. The other two thirds involve running around town doing chores, buying items, etc. or dive into the many different worlds, Super Mario Bros. style, to retrieve the torn pages of the Book of Life.
First, let's talk about the game's main selling point, the drawing. This involves the stylus and the touch screen, obviously. You are treated with some really basic tools, a brush, an eraser and a fill-in tool. In the case of drawing the hero or heroine, there are several guides that you can use, from a tough looking robot to the mythical Santa Claus (yes, Santa Claus is not real), from a snowman to a normal looking boy. You can even interchange any part of the body. Of course, these are just templates. No one is stopping you from drawing an alien or a carrot with a tomato head as a hero, or even just fill in the squares with one solid color and call it a day.
Besides the hero / heroine, you will draw a lot of other things in the game. During your 2D platform adventure, you will come across places where your imagination is required. It could be asking for a cloud, or an ice cube, or a moving platform, etc. What you actually draw within the borders is of course entirely up to you. You can draw a hamster for an ice cube, or a space rocket as a moving platform. Just imagine the hilarity that ensued when you step on a chicken to go across the other side of the road (it sure gives a whole new answer to the long old question). While we won't be producing a Da Vinci masterpiece anytime soon, it can be addictive to those who are artistically inclined. No other game offers the chance to see your masterpiece coming to life. And that is really the whole point of the game. However, there are times when you will need to throw away your design hat and put on the coloring hat. You might come across a whale, or a submarine or a space ship. The design is already set. All you need is to color it in. In trying to provide some varieties in the gameplay, the developers inevitably restrict artistic freedom in these instances.
The game flow is quite straightforward. The village acts as your base. This is also where you advance the story. Most of the time, it will follow the sequence of the villagers want something, be it the sun, or the moon, or crops, etc. These assets were drawn in the Book of Life which were torn into four pieces by the evil Wilfre and scattered in different parts of the worlds. The villager will ask, I mean, demand the service of our (hopefully) well-designed hero / heroine to retrieve the torn pages. Our hero / heroine, who does not possess the power of speech (which means s/he can't say 'no' to villager's request), will obediently fight the evils lurking in the platforming stages and retrieve the pages. Afterwards, the villagers will ask for your divine power to draw the assets that the pages represent. Sometimes you wonder who is really in control, you the Creator or the Raposas. When you are in the village, you usually advance the story by going to a specific place to trigger a dialogue, after which, you will go to another part of the village to trigger more dialogues. When you are free, you can visit an item shop to buy new patterns, palette, etc. to brighten your drawings. You can also enter the Creation Hall to edit any drawings that you have done. Don't like that carrot-looking gun? Why not change it to a shrimp?
The 2D portion of the game is rather ordinary, and overly simplistic. You job is quite simple, collect the four pieces of paper that was the page from the Book of Life. Without them, you cannot exit the stage. Along the path, you will encounter black gooey spots which you must clean using the stylus. There are also three former villagers trapped that you must rescue. A dark cloud will block your path if you have not rescued the villagers in that section yet. Enemies come in different shapes and sizes, but they are all the same. In true SMB style, you jump on it, maybe multiple times, to dispatch them. You are also entrusted with a gun loaded with limited ammos. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to see black enemies when the background is also black. It is here that you would likely to lose a limb or two. You do not lose a life when the enemies chase you down. You lose one limb (or a pair of it) at a time. First it is the arms, then the legs, then the body and finally the head. You will be left with your mannequin base which will die the next time you are caught by the enemies.
The stages unfortunately feel generic and overly simplistic. The enemies, besides the boss fights, might be too easy for some players and provide almost no challenge for experts. It can become tedious as you save the same looking, albeit different, Raposa for the twentieth time. One saving grace is the ability for you to draw the things that your hero will use during your adventure. You can choose to create up to three heroes so you do not necessary see the same old face stage after stage, world after world.
Even though the game might look generic, the graphics are colorful and vibrant. For the most part, your creation will look crude when compared with the surrounding environment, regardless of your artistic talent due to limited resources at your disposal. As you progress through the game, you can purchase, among other things, new color palettes, stamps and patterns. Together with the ability to redesign your creations, you can improve them if you so desire.
Each world has a different theme, and the environment is well represented by the color palette used. Nothing feels particularly out of place. Well, nothing that is already drawn, at least. What you draw within the confinement of the borders is another matter. You could have a bright red cup in the middle of a snowfield.
Background music is well rendered and actually exceeds my expectation. They don't feel repetitive or intrusive. While the Raposas do not speak, they do make lots of 'ummm' and 'ahh' and 'huh'. There are plenty of sound effects to go around, and for the most part, fits in with the game.
Much like every other platformer games, there are secrets to be discovered. A lot of the replay value will be dependent on how eager you are in completing the game 100%. There are no side quests as such, but more often then not, you will find yourself redesigning objects that you have drawn, even if it was just to try out the pattern that you just bought from the shop.