This One Is Our Story
I arrived at the clearing way too late. Young Mari was already standing there, crying her little bunny eyes out and cursing my name.
“Doctor Eyeguns,” she cried, “you’re useless!”
It was a sad moment to be certain, but I - the doctor - shed no tears. I didn’t even blink. It wasn’t professional detachment, nor was it a cold, uncaring disposition. I was, after all, a floating eyeball atop a rocket-powered hover-saddle, and Dr. Eyeguns wasn’t made with tear ducts. All I could do was pat Mari on the back with one of two floating pistols which I drew for hands.
In Drawn To Life, you are the divine creator charged with saving Mari and her people the Raposa. Everything down to your appearance is decided by the point of your DS stylus.
Imagine a quirky mash-up of Super Mario Bros. and a coloring book. Drawn To Life is a short but sweet bundle of side-scrolling action, tied to a pleasant story arc. The whole package is surprisingly satisfying, despite a few annoying snags and its short length.
Players will draw more than 150 platforms, decorations and usable items to rebuild the re-nameable Raposa village, using a fairly robust painting applet. The interface is thought out through and through, from selecting collected paint colors during your adventure to letting you revisit older drawings and fix or replace them. Though your creations are restricted to specific functions and sometimes very confining shapes, players rarely get to be so creative and see their creations work right on the screen.
All of this coloring should keep your little ones occupied for precious extra time, but it may feel like busywork or silliness to older players. Us sophistimicated-types can at least enjoy Drawn To Life’s palatable story structure. RPG-styled segments between levels mete out a steady drama about leadership and growing up. The somewhat visually bland town and supporting cast go through some actual development over the course of the game, with a few fun tongue-in-cheek characters and a few surprises that are silly or emotional.
The meat of the game is a solid exercise in side-scrolling adventure. You crawl around sixteen levels looking for Raposa hostages and torn coloring-book pages, in addition to collectibles hidden in every dead end, for the benefit of explorers and the hopelessly lost. Every four-level block has a different theme, which gives your character some slightly different motion. In one world, you may triple-jump with wings, where in another you shoot homing bullets from your gun.
Fifteen vehicles, colored in your own paint schemes, add mindless bonus-stage fun to break up the levels, and every few minutes, you’ll have another game object to draw. The variety between detours and drawings keeps the game moving at a breezy pace.
The levels take plenty of time to scour, or no time at all if you’re on a speed run. Enemies and bosses only take cheap shots before acting in simple exploitable patterns. Overall, the game experience is plenty full but far too easy. Drawn To Life’s small size magnifies this, which would have been suppressed if it had a full eight worlds instead of four.
You’ll also wish for slightly tighter controls - a slightly higher jump, more height after bouncing on an enemy. The DS stylus actually becomes the game’s biggest problem. Though developer 5TH Cell can’t change the size of your real-life stylus, it is still unclear which two to three pixels your fatty stylus is actually going to touch, which screws up your work no matter how many years you trained at Art School.
Worst of all, the drawing won’t fool savvy players. Drawn To Life is not SimCity - it isn’t Animal Crossing. You can’t draw anything, anytime and declare what it does. Instead, you are told what and when to draw, and your inner artist wanes, especially when the Raposa beg you to draw them a beach ball.
These issues are minimal, however, and before you know it, the colorful presentation will charm you back into the experience. When you open your DS, and the off-screen Raposa cheer at your return, and you see Dr. Eyeguns dancing his silly jig while he waits... how can you be mad?
Drawn To Life features some excellent sound and music, including voice cues and a full-length song. Sound designer David J. Franco’s score goes above and beyond the typical kiddie adventure game, ringing more clearly than the icon-heavy visuals and the occasionally overwhelming scope of the environment.
The Technicolor clichés of Drawn To Life are merely a candy coating for children. Do not (repeat: do not) buy this game for its drawing feature, but look beyond its cutesy appearance and you’ll find a perfectly good tale with some perfectly good action.