Review: Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter (Nintendo DS)

dtlcoverDrawn to Life: The Next Chapter
Publisher: THQ
Developer: 5th Cell
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 10/27/2009

Here we go again.

Drawn to Life was one of the first games I bought when I got my DS. The drawing mechanic looked like it would be a perfect fit for the system. Alas, I was horribly disappointed by the game for a variety of reasons. I felt the drawings were underutilized, the platforming was boring, and a few of the story bits had me ripping out my hair. Still, I kept an eye on the developer and have since gotten each of their games. I loved Lock’s Quest and was once again disappointed by Scribblenauts. At that point, I decided I was done with the developer. They clearly needed someone else to make the games while they came up with the concept. As such, I had no intention of playing the Drawn to Life sequel.

The fact that I’m reviewing it anyway is testament to what it’s like working for this site. You never know what is going to show up in your mailbox.

In either case, I tried my best to work through any preconceptions of the game I might have. I really thought the idea had merit and that a sequel might fix some of the problems. The early reviews weren’t overly promising, but I took a leap of faith.

Was I saved from nasty fall, or did I end up with my brains splattered all over the pavement?

Story:

Drawn to Life 2 takes place not so long after the first game ends. Mari is the new mayor, Wilfre has been defeated, and the hero has been relived of his duties. Of course, things are never as happy as they seem. Wilfre comes back through Heather, a young Raposa (the name of the adorable little creatures in the game) from the first game. Using her as a host, he uses his powers to banish a large portion of the population to other worlds as well as drain the color from the village. The Rapos don’t even have time to revive the hero before the village is ruined. Thankfully, the creator, the god-like entity that you occasionally get to be, sends them a giant sea turtle who literally has a small village on his back. There, they resurrect the hero, sans memory of course, and set off on a journey to save Heather and restore color to the world.

The game is very melodramatic. You’ll visit three other villages, and each has a overly serious story dealing with the village’s leadership that somehow always deals with Wilfre’s evil plans and ends with some sort of forgiveness given to a wrongdoer. That’s not to say the story isn’t enjoyable. In fact, there was one section where I was almost drawn to tears. The Raposa might be cute little buggers, but their world is one filled with strife.

dtl1You control the hero during the game, but when you get to draw things, you take the role of the creator. The hero is a completely silent protagonist once again, but the creator has a few lines that appear as large letters over the action.

What bugs me about the plot is that for all of their talk, the Rapos don’t do all that much. They talk a lot about who they need to stop, what’s going on or how they’ll stop the evil. Then they send the hero in alone. At one point, Mari made this huge speech about how she and Jowee were going to confront Wilfre themselves because there were traps designed to thwart the hero. I was pleasantly surprised by this at first. Then, without any explanation, I as the hero was sent in alone once more to deal with it all while they sat outside and waited, which annoyed me a bit.

Overall, the story is enjoyable at times. There are some moments that feel like they were ripped from other stories (One section was 1984 meets The Wizard of Oz, curtain included), yet I was OK with it for the most part. The big problem is the ending. Not only does it come out of nowhere, it cheapens everything that happened before it. Immediately after I finished the game, I checked around on some message boards, and everyone pretty much said the same thing. The ending was pretty disastrous. If I meet whoever wrote it, I am going to have some words with him. Believe it.

Graphics:

The game’s art style is a two-faced being indeed.

On one hand, the game’s world is a beautifully crafted water-colored painting in motion. There is a ton of detail and life in every creature, building, and object in the game. There was one section where waves were crashing on the beach, and it was one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve seen on the system. It was simply great to look at.

Then there’s the drawings that you create. Unless you’re an amazing artist, chances are your designs are going to be a bit… modest. They also won’t be in the water color style. In short, they aren’t going to gel with the rest of the game, and it ends up looking a bit awkward. There are several times when you can use a pre-drawn object in lieu of creating something yourself, and these fit a lot better. It’s up to you whether or not you used these guides, but I myself preferred to on several occasions.

The platforming sections look good as well, but don’t have quite the same wow factor as when you’re running around in the village. Things do move smoothly for the most part, though the hero is always going to move and look awkward in comparison to the rest of the game. Also, there were some muted colors that looked a bit bland at times.

Perhaps the most visually striking moments of the game are when you walk into a village to see that it is entirely devoid of color. It becomes your mission to fill it with the stylus, and the effect is pretty nifty. True, you won’t get to chose the colors or anything, but it is a nifty effect and is just a decent touch to a game that has an overall good look to it.

Audio:

Like most of their games, 5th Cell has opted for a very light and friendly soundtrack for most of Drawn to Life 2. There’s an overall theme that uses what sounds like midi versions of a xylophone that sounds pretty good. There are also a lot of tracks in the game for just about any situation. There are also two songs that feature voices. The first is beautiful and is a big part of that section of the game that almost had me in tears. The second is pretty bad in the sense that the lyrics hit you over the head with something you already know and are laughable. Overall, the soundtrack is pretty good.

There aren’t any real voices in the game, but like in the last one, there are moments when the Rapos will make noises. These usually add up to things like exclamations or troubled “uhhhh”s. They never speak any real words.

The sound effects aren’t really all that great, once again. The effects are all standard stuff that do the job but never set themselves apart from the pack. Apart from the soundtrack, that pretty much sums up the entire audio experience of the game. Most of it just isn’t remarkable.

Gameplay:

dtl2I will give these guys some credit. It’s clear they took a lot of the criticisms of the first game to heart when they were working on this. The platforming sections are a lot better in terms of how they control, and how interesting they are to play. The focus this time is on jumping, avoiding pitfalls, and exploring every nook and cranny. There are still plenty of enemies to fight and three different weapons to fight them with. The best change is that you no longer have to use the stylus while still moving around. It was a bad idea the first time and it had no place in the game.

There are some nifty changes this time as well. You’ll earn two new forms to transform into as you play. The first is the blob form. This form is slow and weak at first, but you can absorb an enemy to make yourself invincible as well as greatly increase your speed. It was a blast to run around in this mode. The only time you need to use it, though, is to get through narrow tunnels. The spider form can climb on just about any surface as well as cling to platforms. You can also shoot out webs to trap enemies and then use them as platforms as well, though this facet is underutilized. Its final power is to shoot out a web to latch onto walls and even swing around. Controlling the swing has a learning curve, but it can be as fun as some of those old Spider-Man games were at times. There are some moments where you need to switch between the forms, and overall they’re a solid edition. On yeah, and you get to draw them too.

The weapons have also seen a big improvement from last year. You have the slasher for short range, yo-yo for medium range, and blaster for long range. Each has two further upgrades that make them more useful, and these are also really cheap to afford. You get one weapon of choice for free early on, but you have to buy the rest. Of course, you can draw them, but there are also standards you can use if you so wish. Personally, I wanted to draw a battleaxe rather than use the stereotypical sword the game offered. There’s no ammo to worry about this time around, so feel free to blast your way through the levels.

The final big change to the series is the “action drawing” sequences. These are special areas in the game where there are no enemies and all you need to do is get to the door on the other side. The problem is that there is no path to the door. You need to enter a drawing mode where you can use a set amount of ink to create thin platforms. You have only a few of platforms you can create, and there are multiple types to worry about as well. Black lines are steady, yellow will slowly rise after you get on, etc. These sections are the only use you’ll get out of the stylus outside of the drawing bits. They’re okay I suppose, but they aren’t all that great.

Speaking of the drawing, it hasn’t seen any real change from last year. You still have a basic paint application to use. You’re given a shape to draw in, but you can’t go outside of it. You can draw or color whatever you want within the confines of that box. Would you like health pickups to be in the form of dirty magazines? Go for it. Want that statue you were asked to create to be a faithful recreation of the statue of David? Go for it, and good luck. The only setback is your own skill at drawing. Of course, the game will still read whatever you draw as fully filling in the box it gives you. For instance, I was asked to create a platform to jump on, and all I did was draw a little spring that took up maybe a third of the space I had. When I jumped on this platform later on, I could literally stand on empty space. It’s a limitation of what the developer is trying to do, but it will be more or less annoying depending on your personality. Personally, it annoyed me. You always have the option to just leave an object as empty space as well. Overall, there are more things to draw and they show up more often than last time, so the drawing aspects have been improved, overall.

Okay, I’ve been going on a bit here. Let’s just get the structure of the game out of the way so we can move on, shall we? You travel to an island devoid of color, and you’ll spend color drops you find in levels to restore color to various structures in the village. If one of those structures is a level, you can then play it. You don’t have to color everything in the village, though there is so much color to find that you might as well. I ended the game with over two thousand color while still having fully colored everything in. There are around eight or so levels per island, and a boss fight ends each one. You can travel back to them at any point to find any Rapos or special coins you might have missed. You can also redraw anything you’ve created at the main village hub. The game structure is decent enough, though for some reason there’s no way to tell if you’ve gotten everything in a level other than going into it.

The bottom line is that the game has improved over its predecessor due to a greater deal of variety and overall improved controls. Its still not going to compete with a lot of other platformers out there, but it’ll scratch the itch and let you create a few things along the way.

Replayability:

This is where the game falls flat on its face.

dtl3Overall, I can’t say it took more than five hours to beat this game. Sure, there were some coins and Rapos left to find, but there weren’t that many, and with the full complement of weapons and forms, it was cake to go back to an old level and find something I’d missed. You can spend the time and money needed to unlock all of the bonus costumes and music, but the music is only kind of worth it, while the costumes go against the very idea of the game. The only reason to use them is if you can’t draw at all. Even then, I had almost unlocked everything the first go through.

There isn’t any New Game Plus this time around, and that’s probably for the best, to be honest. Keeping your items would make the game that much easier. And even if you get all of the coins, what you unlock is pretty useless, though it does explain what happens to a random item to you drew early on.

Overall, you can safely spend about six hours on the game before you’ve done everything. The only reason to play it again would be to draw new things. There’s no change in difficulty to worry about, nor are there branching story paths. Its a one-and-done game to the core. Its just a shame that one doesn’t last very long.

Balance:

The problem with the game’s length is further explored by how incredibly easy the game is. Life, color drops, and coins are everywhere. Even if you die, the plentiful checkpoints mean you won’t ever have to go back too far. Since all of the weapons have an infinite number of uses, they are yet another aspect of the game you never have to worry about. The big kicker is that even with all of the health available to you, you still only have six hits you can take before you die as well!

The boss fights, a rather tough proposition in the first game, are a complete joke here. They actually get easier as they go. Even Wilfre, who is supposed to be the ultimate bad guy, offers no resistance, as you can basically stand under him and fire away without much fear. Another boss had a platform in front of it that I could stand behind and never take a hit while constantly barraging him with gunfire. It was sad.

Even if the difficulty was there, there’d be all kinds of problems to deal with as well. For one, enemies respawn almost immediately. You can move forward a few feet only to turn around and see the enemy you just killed standing there ready to take a chunk of your health away. There were also several moments where I had to make a jump and an enemy was right there waiting for me. There was no way to see it coming or take it out before it popped up, so it was a guaranteed hit no matter what I did. If you had less life, you’d be dying a ton. As it is, most of my few deaths were because I was being a twit.

Originality:

Originality was something the previous game had going for it in spades. There wasn’t anything quite like Drawn to Life on the market. That’s a big part of the reason it did so well and managed to make 5th Cell a name to watch out for.

Here, the bar has been raised in terms of originality and 5th Cell couldn’t quite reach it. While there are several additions to the gameplay, such as the action drawing sequences and alternate forms, it still feels a bit too much like the first game. It’s not like alternate forms for a hero hasn’t been done before.

Overall, this game is unique when compared to other games on the system, but doesn’t do enough in terms of new content to make it stick out when compared to the other games the developers have made. It will still be an overall unique experience for those who didn’t play the original, so if you haven’t played the first game, this one will surely feel fresh.

Addictiveness:

The first game failed in this department. The levels were boring and too long. The annoying fetch quests you had to go through in town meant story sequences took less time than it took for you to get there. Overall, it wasn’t a game that sucked you in.

I must admit this game does a much better job in this department, though clearly it was at the sacrifice of the game’s overall length. The levels are short and interesting. You always want to see what you’re going to draw next, and the story is melodramatic and crazy enough that you just might want to see what happens next.

The big problem is that sometimes those story sequences are too long. For instance, the game’s opening rivals that of some big name RPGs. Also, there were points where it seemed you were hopping from one cut scene to the next. I’ve seen more than one person complain about this.

It’s not going to keep you coming back the same way an addictive puzzle or engrossing narrative will, but you won’t have any problems turning on Drawn to Life 2 and playing for a while. This was one of the few times where a game was too short for my liking, and I actually wanted more.

Appeal Factor:

dtl4This is the third Drawn to Life game on the market, the second being a Spongebob Squarepants spin-off that was done by another developer. There’s another version of this game on the Wii, but 5th Cell didn’t work on it, and it has a completely different story and its own unique modes. Those looking for an authentic experience should play this game, as it is the one and true sequel.

5th Cell has become a bit of a big name on the DS with Scribblenauts, and Drawn to Life was a pretty sizable hit when it came out. There is no doubt a bigger audience for this game than it would have had even a few months ago. Overall, this is a game that just about anyone can play and at least have some fun with. The drawing aspects are relatively unique to this game. It may not go as far as some of us would like, but it’s sure to get some attention.

It may look like a kid’s game, but the overall experience is definitely all ages in nature.

Miscellaneous:

I mentioned how the ending was a bit nutty in the beginning of this review, so let me make something clear. There is no way for you to understand how much the ending messes with you until you’ve experienced it for yourself. I’m not kidding when I say that it essentially ruined my entire experience with the game. All of the good things, the not so good things, or even the mediocre elements, none of it meant anything once that stupid song started playing and I was dealt one of the dumbest and most annoying twist endings in history. I literally sat there going “What is this?!?” the entire time it played. (Though obviously I didn’t hold back on the language.) I fought the boss again so I could see it a second time. It didn’t help.

Apart from that, I would like to thank 5th Cell for bettering the game as a whole. I do appreciate how they took complaints from the first game to heart and tried to correct some of the mistakes they had made with the game’s controls. Also, I was glad that the items I was creating weren’t all one-and-done deals like there were before. Items showed up rather frequently throughout the course of the game. Sure, there were items like the surfboard that were only used once, but they were the exception rather than the rule this time around.

Taken as a whole, this game is pretty decent and a big step up from the last game, which was as close to sucking as you can get without actually sucking. Drawn to Life 2 might be short, it might have one of the worst endings in history, and it might not quite be worth the price. Still, I’d suggest that if you got any enjoyment out of the previous game, you give this a try. More than likely, you’ll have some fun.

The Scores:

Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Pretty Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

diehardjackWhen I got Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter in the mail, I was certain I was in for a pretty bumpy ride. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the overall experience. On the whole, this is a better game than its predecessor in nearly every facet of its design. There are still some problems. The game is short, the ending is extremely unsatisfying, and it’s a bit too easy. Even still, if you liked the first game, you won’t be done wrong by this one. I can safely recommend it to anyone with a DS. Just don’t go in expect greatness and you’ll have some fun creating items and jumping around in the levels.

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