Before the days of Scribblenauts, 5th Cell brought us Drawn to Life (2007), which pioneered the idea of a DIY personalized platforming game. In it, players drew their own characters, sprites, and background elements, all of which were thereafter incorporated into the gameplay (fairly) seamlessly. While the concept was indisputably novel, the framework of action/platforming gameplay didn’t provide ample support. The result was a game with a cool idea weighed down by a dull core product.
Now Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter puts the paintbrush back in your hand. While 5th Cell developed the DS iteration, this Wii version was actually handled by Planet Moon Studios (who you might recognize for such small-time Wii titles as Battle of the Bands or the Smarty Pants trivia game). Regardless, the model is mostly the same: draw your character, play as an animated version of your drawing, and leverage your ability to illustrate to make it through a series of otherwise pretty mundane platforming environments.
A picture’s worth a thousand seconds
Once designing your character sprite (limb-for-limb; a painstaking process to be sure, but ultimately rewarding if you spend the time), the Earth, the sun, and the moon, you’ll find yourself immersed in a cutesy town called Raposa. This town is populated by a group of bubbly little creatures who have recently been facing the threat of constant theft within their town; everything from crops to doors have been stolen. Sent by the almighty Creator (insinuating that you, the player carries this role), the town hero—which you designed moments before—is the only hope of recovering these precious stolen items and getting to the bottom of the problem.
This ninja will provide momentary distraction from an otherwise tragically bland assortment of gameplay
And so you set off on your first side-scrolling platforming adventure of many to come, first navigating the town until you reach a body of water with no bridge. As one might predict, this bridge was also stolen, and so you’re put to the task of restoring it—by way of Wii remote. Near the edge of the water is a canvas—er, a creation easel—which you can approach and press C to begin your powerful artistry. The game instructs you to illustrate a bridge to cross the water, and so you must. There really aren’t any rules or restrictions as to what you draw—be it an actual bridge or even, say, a pile of one-legged cows—just so long as it spans the width of the ravine. Herein, of course, lays the creative leg of the experience.
The drawing interface probably sounds pretty intimidating, and truth be told, it’s far from comfortable. But surprisingly, it actually works fairly well once you get the hang of it, and that’s in spite of the fact that you’re piloting a Wii remote as opposed to an immediately intuitive stylus. This is partly thanks to the fact that the precision of the pointer is much better than you might expect. The speed of the cursor has been notably slowed to allow for a much greater deal of accuracy, and that’s a definite plus. The assortment of tools available to you isn’t remarkably expansive or anything, but it’s mostly sufficient: a few differently-shaped paint brushes, stamp tools, color palettes, shape tools, and paint buckets to fill bounded areas. Most everything can be scaled via a slider at the bottom-left of the screen, providing a respectable sense of versatility.
As you explore the platforming environments, you’ll encounter pickups which unlock additional stamps, color palettes, and templates for purchase at the town shop (coins are ubiquitous as well and are used to make the purchases). Unfortunately, most of these are actually pretty humdrum, and it still doesn’t seem like there’s enough available to really flex your creative muscle. Worse yet, a couple of significant drawbacks to the interface hamper the enjoyment. First off, the fill tool isn’t painless; it often leave little white trails around the border of the fill area, and sometimes the colors strangely don’t seem to match up perfectly. Perhaps more disturbing, however, is the fact that you only are granted three undo states (anyone who dabbles in Photoshop will recognize just how profane this is)—meaning that you’re less likely to experiment at the risk of screwing up a pretty snazzy illustration. Nevertheless, if you’ve got some degree of artistic proficiency, you’ll find solace in the opportunity to play amongst your creations, even if nearly all of them amount to little more than background art or power-up sprites.
Deadly shadow rabbits spontaneously attack our heroine, who regrets not packing a jacket
Of course, this process repeats frequently throughout the gameplay, with innumerable canvases scattered all throughout the game’s worlds. Regardless of how captivating this sounds, it grows rather tiresome over time—and as such, it’s fortunate that there is a button provided which simply fills in the canvas with a premade “template” for whatever object you’re currently tasked with creating. Of course, that template can then be modified if you so choose, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself defaulting to this option rather early on you become bored with illustrating every little element of the environment. Sure, the drawing is fun in small doses, but when you boil it all down, this is a platforming game with drawing customization elements—not the other way around. Luckily, there are other varieties of customization at work within the gameplay as well.
These other unique additions are few in number, but at least they’re here. They take the form of so-called action drawing areas, which are actually blue- or red-bordered boxes hanging in the foreground which can be used to create scalable geometric objects right in the midst of the gameplay. The blue variety is plain and simple: you point within the box and, using the B button, you draw whatever shape, platform, or what-have-you that you think might aid your progress. You can then hop on top of that shape and go along your merry way. The only restriction at play is the amount of ink you’re allowed to use before you must erase part of your drawing and start again. It’s easy, yet unique.
The red assortment, on the other hand, is a little more complex. Rather than your drawings simply hanging there once they’re penned, they instead are immediately subject to the force of gravity and any environmental hazards around them. The drawings in red boxes don’t even necessarily remain within their boundaries; if nothing is there to stop them, they’ll simply tumble right out and onto the ground below. This opens the door for a whole range of interesting puzzle elements, such as drawing huge orbs that roll and take out bad guys along the way, stackable boxes that can be used to scale towering walls, and even rods and hooks that fall onto little red push pins decorating the background, swinging to and fro. It’s definitely a fresh gameplay idea, and while it isn’t enough to sustain the entire package as a truly fascinating platforming experience, it’s a start.
Not all the environments are snow; this is provided merely for lack of screenshot selection. This caption probably should have been removed during the editing process.
The rest of the innovations are less such. For instance, throughout the game, you’ll find yourself drawing wings for your character to sail around with or a monkey tail you can use to swing—nothing really new, though the idea of drawing it once again makes it a little bit more personal. More often than not, however, you’ll find yourself navigating a world of platforming status quo, trampolining from place to place and blasting through barrels and such. You’ll hop on enemies Mario-style, punch, and ground-pound them. It’s fun from time to time, but at its core, it’s really just yet another platformer.
In a number of ways, it’s actually patently inferior. The level designs, for starters, are mostly bland and repetitive. The enemies are equally so—rarely memorable and mostly just a nuisance. The collision detection also seems to be somewhat problematic, with your character taking damage in questionable situations. Load times are excessively long (often seven to ten seconds) and irritatingly frequent. And having to revisit the town (and usually navigate the entire length of it) in between every single level is hardly something to look forward to; the characters are uninteresting, the dialogue is an absolute bore, and the story is vapid. Nothing really feels state-of-the-art or pushes the envelope in any fashion at all—except, of course, for the illustrative gimmicks which we’ve already discussed, and these simply aren’t enough to save the overall experience from its place in mediocrity.