Friday, January 18, 2008

Drawn to Life review

For those of you who don't frequent the forums, I have a small bit of news. I was recently contacted by a publicity company, and they began sending me retail copies of THQ games in return for reviews written by me. I just want to say that I will review these games the same way as any other software, regardless of it being "free". I will continue to give honest and fair reviews like always. For more on this recent happening, please check out this thread on the forums. Now then, time for the review!

Developer: 5TH Cell
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: September 10, 2007
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
ESRB Notes: Mild Cartoon Violence

If you're reading this, chances are you've played a two-dimensional Mario platformer at least once in your life. There's also a decent chance of you having played Mario Paint in the past as well. But have you ever wondered if a game would come along and bring these two games together in a platformer that requires skill as much as creativity? I've done more than imagine it: I've played it. And it's name is Drawn to Life.

Drawn to Life is an amazingly creative game with an interesting story to go along with it. In this game, you don't play as the hero. You play as The Creator, the one who made the world and all that exists on it. All goes well in the land you have forged, until one day, when a twisted denizen off your world mangles the sacred Book of Life. This book is what ties the world together, and without it's entirety being intact, the moon, stars and more all disappear.

The residents of your land, the rodent-like Raposa, begin abandoning their village in light of the recent happenings. This goes on until only three remain: The mayor, his daughter, Mari, and a young Raposa named Jowee. To make things even worse, Wilfire, the one responsible to the tragedy, seals off the last exit from the village with impenetrable darkness. Now the remaining citizens can't even retrieve the Raposa that have left! With nobody else to turn to, Mari contacts you, The Creator, and prays for help. You hear her pleas, and agree to help. Bringing a nearby mannequin to life, you then craft the being in your image by drawing a character on a template. Now that the hero has appeared, you, The Creator, can begin to rebuild the Raposa's devastated village.

In order to fix all that Wilfire has done, you must retrieve the lost pages from the Book of Life. These pages have been ripped in pieces and scattered across many lands, so it won't be easy gathering them all up again. You'll kill many a foe, jump over many a hole and draw a whole whackload of items and objects to assist you.

When it comes to gameplay, I suppose the best place to start would be the drawing aspect. After all, that's the main defining feature of the game. When creating the hero, you have to make sure that the elbows, knees and such are all positioned correctly according to the hinges of the template (Which are represented by a dotted line). You can be as detailed or cartoony as you like, although the colour selection each palette comes with is a little skimpy.

The character creation screen

Don't worry about getting your character drawn perfectly, as you'll have plenty of opportunities to redraw him or her throughout the game. You'll even be able to unlock more palettes later on in the game, so it couldn't hurt to touch up your character later on. You can even make two additional heroes to swap out every now and then, just in case you get bored of staring at the same guy all the time.

If there's one problem with creating your character, it's that the game doesn't tell you that your creation should be facing to the right. If he's looking to the left, he'll be walking backwards once you start playing. And if he's looking straight at the screen, it'll sure look weird when he gets walking. Just make sure your character is angled to be facing slightly to the right (Like in the image above), and it'll be okay.

When you're designing objects and devices to help you in a level, you often have full reign over the shape and design of the object, as long as you stick within the template. However, sometimes an object will require being coloured in, and not designed. If you don't put some colour in one section, it will be white instead of invisible. This can be a little bit of a downer compared to otherwise having full control over the shape your creations, but the restrictions are understandable. After all, a submarine wouldn't work very well if it didn't have a solid hull big enough to house your character! While you can't change the shape of some items, you can color them in however you want. You could add a custom design to the side of your sled or a fancy pattern onto your hang glider.

Of course, one could easily breeze through the whole game by colouring everything a solid colour instead of putting some effort into their artistry, but that kills a lot of the fun. That'd be like playing Wii Tennis sitting down. Sure, it may be easier, but that's not in the spirit of the game. How much fun you get out of this game partially depends on how much work you put into it. At least, that's how I see it.

Of course, you never have to draw exactly what they say. Instead of clouds you could draw some classic bricks from Super Mario Bros.! Or maybe replace that Tiki head with a foot! The game doesn't know the difference, and it's quite fun to boot!

One problem with drawing items to be used in the platforming segments of the game is that if the object you're drawing moves, you don't know exactly in what way the item moves until after you draw it. Imagine spending all that time drawing a super-detailed clam, only to notice that the hinge is on the other side of the object. You'd have to go back and fix it, or continue on and spring off of some messed up clams. Either way, it's somewhat of a pain.

Okay, now that I'm finally done yapping about the artistry part of the game, let's move along to the platforming aspect. Sadly, it seems that most of the creativity went towards the drawing integration, because the platforming sections are somewhat generic. Jump, fire a snowball, jump, run, jump, butt stomp, enter building, grab page piece, free trapped Raposa, wash, rinse, repeat. Every now and then the monotony is broken by drawing an object, and then it's business as usual.

Although it does deserve saying that while everything's relatively same ol', same ol', it's still pretty fun. It's just not new. I have fun playing through each level, it's just that I never find myself thinking "Wow, that's something new!" outside of the drawing segments.

I really love the art style in this game. Well, the art not drawn by me, that is. First of all, the Raposa are just so darn cute! As you can see on the box art above, the Raposa are an adorable bunch of little guys, with big ol' ears. The rest of the game is equally colourful and bright, from the biggest boss battle down to the smallest enemy.

There's even one part when art really meets gameplay, and that's when your character takes damage. Instead of having a life bar or health meter of any sort, your character takes damage visually. Every hit you take knocks off your custom artwork from the mannequin frame. As your character takes more and more damage, his or her mannequin skeleton is further revealed. If you manage to take so much damage that you're down to having no custom artwork left on your character, then it's just one more hit until you're done for.

All it takes is one more hit, and this guy's toast.

It can sometimes be hard to tell how much health you have left if you give your character bulky gear. For example, my character's underwater helmet is a full fishbowl (Surprisingly effective). Since the head is the last part to lost it's custom artwork when taking damage, I'm sometimes left wondering if I have any health left. I suppose that's just my fault, though.

Adding even more to the intense cuteness of the Raposa is their adorable little chatter. When you walk up to a Raposa and talk to it, the conversation is usually preceded by a small outcry of "Rapo!" or "Raposa!". It's in such an adorable little voice! It's as if 5TH Cell didn't think they were cute enough already. No, they had to go and make them even cuter. WHEN WILL THEY LEARN?!

The music in the game isn't something you'll find yourself humming the next day, but it's still something that keeps the action flow going. Sorry if that makes no sense, but that's the best way I could put it. Basically, it's nice music that helps without being all that noticeable.

There seems to be a multiplayer function in the game as well. I say "there seems to be", as I just noticed it about an hour ago. As far as I can tell, it's limited to trading character designs between consoles. Sounds pretty cool, really. Perhaps if I had a friend with a copy of this game and a shred of artistic talent it'd be a neat idea. However, that is not the case, so I can't judge the game on this.

I haven't finished Drawn to Life quite yet, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how much time I've put into it without actually getting to the credit sequence. This game has some surprising longevity to it! Or maybe I just suck. That could be it.


Storyline: 8.0/10
The story to Drawn to Life, while somewhat basic, is strangely gripping. You start to care about the characters that you see throughout the village, and it really sucks whenever something bad happens. Then again, I'm somewhat of a sap.

Gameplay: 8.2/10
Being able to draw whatever you want and see it come to life is incredibly rewarding. From crafting the hero himself to drawing an umbrella for the beach, it's really nice to see you art become part of the game. The platforming is somewhat generic, but it's still fun. If you want something new when it comes to your platforming, this isn't the game for you.

Audio: 7.2/10
The Raposa are so adorable with their little cries of "Rapo" and such! I can't help but crack a smile whenever I talk to one of them. The music is a little on the generic side, but it isn't bad enough to affect the experience. And the sound effects? Pretty basic, really. Whenever the hero jumps it sounds like a zipper for some reason...

Longevity: 8.6/10
Drawn to Life is a pretty long adventure, surprisingly. Most DS games are fairly short, but I was gladly shown otherwise. I've played it for a few hours a day since Monday, and I still have a bit left to do. I question how much replay value there will be afterwards, though.

OVERALL: 8.0/10
Drawn to Life was criminally ignored last year, and that's a real shame. It's easily one of the most unique games to hit the DS in a while, and I'm very sad to see sales so low. Sure, it has a few shortcomings in the platforming and sound departments, but everything else makes up for this. Drawn to Life is a very fun platformer, and if you're a creative person, this is more than deserving of a spot in your game library.

So then, so concludes my first review in about two months! Things should pick up in the review department from here on in, so don't worry about that. Well, that's that!

The Duck Has Spoken.


D-Pad said...

Awesome review. It upsets me that I still haven't picked this game up, even though I've been waiting for it's release since it was first announced (and looking for a publisher!). I keep passing it in the stores with empty pockets. Oh well. :(

The Green Ninja said...

Slowly but surly, Duck is becoming main stream :D