Drawn to Life (DS) review
"Iím a sucker for a solid create-a-character mode, to the point where it often distracts me from getting anything else done in a game. I could make wrestlers for hours without doing any actual wrestling, or spend a day assembling a football team full of wide receivers that are seven-foot-four, 400 pounds, and can outrun a Kenyan. And it isnít just sports games that reel me in Ė games that rely solely on the user to create the protagonist donít escape this curse, either. I couldnít tell you the ma..."
Iím a sucker for a solid create-a-character mode, to the point where it often distracts me from getting anything else done in a game. I could make wrestlers for hours without doing any actual wrestling, or spend a day assembling a football team full of wide receivers that are seven-foot-four, 400 pounds, and can outrun a Kenyan. And it isnít just sports games that reel me in Ė games that rely solely on the user to create the protagonist donít escape this curse, either. I couldnít tell you the majority of what happened in a game like Magic Pengel because I was too busy making a dog with blue fur, side-mounted guns, three tails, and two tongues.
After years of experience, the question I now pose to any character-creation-heavy game I play is: Does this game transcend its creation component? That is, will I enjoy the game on a level beyond that of making an ostrich with a mullet and hammers for hands and maybe enjoy some of the actual gameplay? Drawn to Life passes this test, but in such a way that to say so is not really a compliment.
Proving that the pen may truly be mightier than the sword, the Book of Life in the introduction states that the world was, aptly, drawn to life by the Creator, ostensibly you. To this effect, you even get to illustrate a few of the pages yourself (a nice touch). You will draw the sphere of the world, its forests, and a Raposa, one of the creatures that inhabit this world you made. As an artist, your living, breathing masterpiece is second to none; as a god, however, youíve been a little less capable. The Raposa have stopped believing that their Creator communicates with them, and in the intervening darkness, the villagers have been captured by an evil creature named Wilfre, and those few remaining free are planning an exodus. This seems like as good a time as any to make them feel guilty for doubting your omnipotence by sending them a hand-drawn hero.
With the help of one staunch believer, a girl named Mari, you will open up the Creation Hall and access the model by which your hero can be created. The savior of the Raposa is to be a bipedal creature with two arms, a torso, and a head, and must be colored from an initial palette of approximately 25 colors. At the beginning, you also have a paltry assortment of stamps you can put on your characters; various other palettes and stamps can be unlocked later.
Donít expect perfection from the stylus Ė no matter your artistic proficiency, anything you draw from scratch is as prone to look like a kindergartenerís refrigerator art as an actual childís. When you finalize your hero(ine), you finally get to take control and run around, which, even if you designed him/her with any degree of anatomical accuracy, will resemble the movement of a rag doll thatís had a stroke. It is with this floppy hero, and up to two others that the Creation Hall will allow you to hold, that you will enter the gates that lead to other regions of the Raposa world, where you will find the pieces of the pages that the nefarious Wilfre has torn out of the Book of Life and save the villagers he has captured.
The stylus is not exactly a paragon of accuracy and detail, leaving the experience of creating a character peculiarly hollow. No matter whether you use one of the supplied pre-made models or design your own person, youíre going to be settling for less. If you use a pre-existing character, you wonít feel as if youíre playing the game the way youíre supposed to, and if you draw someone yourself, youíll find yourself humbled and quickly learning not to expect to crank out anything on par with the Last Supper, or even, say, the average Peanuts strip. Kids wonít mind that the DS is able to approximate their relative level of art skill, but for older gamers, this may translate to some frustration.
The user-creation aspect is better realized in the playerís active participation in the level design process. At several points in the action stages, you will be called upon to help make the odds and ends that will help you defeat enemies and navigate the world. Sometimes you will have to design weapons, such as a sword or a gun that can fire snowballs. You may have to create devices for getting around, like springboards or rotating platforms. Still other instances will let you color in pre-designed vehicles like submarines, sleds, and spaceships. This feels more fulfilling than the actual character design process, and adds a substantial amount of flavor to a game that would otherwise be a long ordeal of hand-holding directions and primitive platforming.
If the artwork doesnít tip the game off as being a kids-only affair, then certainly the levels themselves will. Aside from the enemies themselves, there are almost no environmental threats to speak of Ė no pits to fall in, and you canít be injured by falling too far. Oddly enough, water will hurt you if you are meant to traverse it using a vehicle, but this is a weird outlier and seems not reflective of poor game design but rather the product of a desire to keep the player on task. Coins and health are abundant Ė youíll never be unable to afford anything in Isaacís shop, and death is a relatively rare occurrence thanks to all the restorative hearts lying around. Most Book of Life pages and captured Raposas are easy to find with even the shortest detour from the main path. The boss fights might trip up smaller players, but even they are predictable and easily conquered with a modicum of effort.
Part of the lack of difficulty is actually the result of a well-done job on THQís part in relation to the controls. Although the characters display very rigid movement Ė they donít really bend their joints very much and they canít point their weapons up or down Ė they move fluidly and land on ledges with near-total precision. Running is a simple matter of holding forward in the direction you want to go, and the jump height is perfect for the gameís scale. Even the vehicles are easy to keep control of. For characters that are made primarily by your own hand, itís an astonishing development that they handle as well as they do. This alone is responsible for redeeming some of the gameís shakier aspects, like its lackluster drawing process and simplistic progression and dialogue. Perhaps the highest compliment that it can be paid is that it just makes you want to play (if not finish) the game, whereas most games of its ilk have a hard time engaging the player beyond the creation segment.
Drawn to Life also looks good and sounds good, but for a game that invests so heavily in character creation Ė especially one that presents such a unique take on it Ė that isnít enough. What it needs is the ability to live up to the strength of its ideas and execute them so that the player is going to be interested beyond the selling gimmick. Drawn to Life ends up running a bit backwards. Putting your own artwork into practice isnít so much fun while youíre doing it, but things start getting better once the game takes off and you start firing snowballs and making up your own platforms and vehicles. Ironically, this actually makes it somewhat better than the other hero-designers that have preceded it, meaning THQ may have accidentally stumbled onto the key for making these types of games more than just ďthat game where you make a guy.Ē
Kids are definitely going to enjoy Drawn to Life more than adolescents and adults Ė after all, theyíre who it was designed for. They will derive their joy from being the driving force behind what advances the game. The older set might see it as a chance to flex their stylus muscle or take a break from more demanding games, but even for them itís not the worst game they could pick up. It is more engaging than the average make-a-hero adventure despite its kiddieness and worth a shot for anyone interested. Itís not going to revolutionize the way you look at stylus use on the DS, but itís very important that it isnít boring beyond the doodling, and it points the way to making games like it much better than they currently are and realizing their full potential.
Community review by snowdragon (December 21, 2007)
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