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Drawn: The Painted Tower (PC) artwork

Drawn: The Painted Tower (PC) review

"For people who haven't played an adventure game before, this title could serve as a decent starting point and a solid representation of its genre, but unfortunately there's not much on offer for the more hardcore adventure fan."

An enchanted and magical world awaits you in Drawn: The Painted Tower, a point-and-click adventure from developer Big Fish Studios. The game tells the story of a special girl, Iris, whose pictures comes to life shortly after she paints them. She's been trapped in a tower by an evil king and, since she is the sole hope her hometown has of escaping its bleak existence, someone must rescue her. That someone is you.

So, just who are you? The surprising answer is that you're a cursor arrow. That's rather unexpected, since along the journey you'll encounter all sorts of magical and mythical creatures that include a dragon, a griffon, a talking scarecrow and many others. It shouldn’t have been hard for the developers to create some sort of main character (a knight in shining armor, perhaps?), but players who like their heroes well-defined are in for a disappointment.

If you can accept that Drawn is another of the many point-and-click adventure games to employ the silent protagonist, then you can get down to the matter of rescuing Iris. Since she's trapped at the top of a tower, the only way to reach her is to solve puzzles and clear obstacles while ascending a succession of floors that lead to the damsel in distress. This means first exploring a new floor, then collecting items and reading notes that shed light on either a painting or the overall plot. Then you can tend to the various puzzles that you are tasked with solving.

Those puzzles vary in quality. While some of them require logical thinking and are pleasantly intuitive, others feel more like chores and detract from the overall experience. For example, one "puzzle" finds you painting a statue of a prince so that it matches another one that's already available. Another finds you coloring the left eye of a giant stone sculpture with the same tones as another one. The game also features too many "arrangement" puzzles, where you must slide blocks to turn a jumbled mess into a normal picture. Thankfully, the less enjoyable painting and arrangement puzzles are joined by some interesting multi-tiered puzzles. Of particular note is one where you need to find items, dip them into gold and balance them on a scale. Challenges along those less conventional lines are a lot of fun to solve and offer a real sense of achievement when you clear them.

Though the level design throughout the entire game is creative and original, Iris's paintings are what allows the game to truly shine. Each piece of art has been destroyed by the time you first enter the tower, so it's up to you to restore them. Watching them come to life as you solve puzzles and put items in their correct places is a wonderful experience. In some instances, characters and objects in the paintings will even break through the frame and enter the real world, where they'll then help you or cause the game to progress. You'll likely keep playing the game just to see what the next painting will be and how it will react once you have pieced it together.

Drawn also may keep you playing because it knows better than to allow the player to get stuck on any one puzzle for longer than is necessary. You can receive hints from Franklin, Iris’s guardian who failed to protect her, and you also have the option of completely skipping puzzles that you don’t feel like solving. The annoying part of both options is that you'll have to wait awhile between hints and you can't quickly skip multiple puzzles. Both of these options are clearly designed to make the game accessible to a wider audience, so I have a hard time understanding why the developers implemented the features but then chose to limit their use. Besides that, the hints that you are offered sometimes are too vague or may relate to parts of a multi-step puzzle that you have already solved (forcing you to read and wait through useless tips before finally reaching one that helps you with your current issues). That wastes time and is a definite nuisance.

Visually, Drawn does an excellent job of establishing a melancholy mood around the tower, with a dark roof and walls. Similarly, you'll hear nothing but sad notes playing in the background as you ascend the tower. That's all very nice, but the dingy visuals mean that important items sometimes blend in with the scenery where you are meant to find them. The result is that sometimes you'll fail to pick something up, then realize the mistake only when you're in the middle of solving a puzzle that relies on you to have collected various items. This means more backtracking and can lead to situations where you find yourself searching randomly in hopes of finding something of value. The issue doesn't crop up particularly often, but it's frustrating when it does.

Ultimately, Drawn: The Painted Tower is a unique game that features a mixture of brilliant and annoying moments. The end result could have been something great, but instead it settles for "good." For people who haven't played an adventure game before, the title could serve as a decent starting point and a solid representation of its genre. Casual gamers will at least appreciate the accessibility, but unfortunately there's not much on offer for the more hardcore adventure fan.


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Freelance review by Sohail Saleem (October 07, 2009)

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