If you’re new to the DS scene or haven’t heard much of the hype in the last few years ago, you may not be familiar with one of the more creative development teams to date. 5th Cell has brought us a few instant classics through their magic of instilling gamers with unbridled creativity. Games such as Drawn to Life, Lock’s Quest, and Scribblenauts have been the frontrunners of pushing DS software innovation and though none of these met perfection, they are all games that should be played by any gamer that owns a DS. Now, the long awaited (true) sequel to 5th Cell’s original Drawn to Life is finally upon us, bringing more of the classic creative gameplay. But has 5th Cell provided us with a complete polished experience or have they merely designed yet another creative game that lacks in its execution?
Stereotypically Stagnant Storytelling
From the moment you turn on the game, it’s undeniably a 5th Cell production featuring similarly hand drawn art, familiar music, and the typically incredible creativity. The game begins with a town in crisis as the evil Wilfre is back to his old tricks of trying to conquer the Raposa people. He begins by pulling most of the citizens into mysterious portals and finishes his assault by sucking all color from the town. Before the entire island loses color, however, the remaining townspeople are fortunate enough escape to a legendary island on the back of a giant turtle. This island, basically a giant floating town, serves as the central hub of the game. You, dubbed “the creator”, then serve as a god to the people of this imaginary world and, as was with the first game, you’re the job of saving the day by using your creative abilities.
As for the rest of the story, it is told through large amounts of dialogue and though at first it’s kind of fun being referred to as “the creator” by the townsfolk (and realizing they’re talking about you), the story never really engrosses the gamer and at the same time caries on for far too long of spurts between gameplay sessions. Though there are obvious attempts at a heartwarming story and you do feel involved, the game just never feels like it shoots for home in terms of producing a knockout story. Now, I’ve seen many games in the past suffer from a story that inhibits gameplay and this is most certainly one of them. The biggest problem is that I feel like it lacks an identity for the type of game it is trying to become.
Now, 5th Cell isn’t particularly known for this issue (despite it being an issue in the first Drawn to Life). Take Scribblenauts, for instance, where the game has literally no story whatsoever which was a great decision by the developer (creating a story out of that game would be one of the biggest stretches I’d ever see). Lock’s Quest, on the other hand, is on the other extreme of the story spectrum where it has a decent enough story to keep you interested but doesn’t draw on so much that it hurts the overall gameplay. So, when tackling Drawn to Life, I would have expected either a stellar story or a nearly non-existent one (such as many Mario games). Unfortunately, though, the fact that it falls somewhere in between causes it to suffer from its lack of narrative identity.
See, gamers enjoy games on both ends of the spectrum and even some in the middle but if the characters are difficult to connect with, it makes storytelling much more difficult. A series that comes to mind that suffers from this lukewarm approach to narration is the Pokémon: Mystery Dungeon series where I never felt attached to any of the characters. I’m sure most kids won’t care about stories but in games such as Drawn to Life and even Pokémon that are capable of reaching beyond the younger audience to a broader range of gamers purely because of concept alone, a so-so story tends to hurt the appeal more so than not. Thus, either an incredible story or none at all would be the best bet for games such as these and unfortunately that is not the case for either series.
Drawn to Life but Driven to Lackluster
Once the characters reach the turtle, you can create a hero using a decent art tool and the game’s ability to animate the character is quite impressive (full moving legs, arms, and the actual outline of the body moves subtly as well). You’re able to move around towns and environments using your hero, interacting with the Raposa people to move the story along. Throughout the adventure, the turtle island drops port at many different destinations, all of which have lost color like your own; thus, the progression of the story involves collecting color and bringing life back to the many towns you encounter, as well as helping the individual people of each island.
As you play, your hero will also travel through numerous 2D platforming levels that are unlocked throughout each town. This portion of the game is a bare bones platforming experience that reminded me at times of an old Wario Land title (specifically Wario Land 2), where you’ll do some of the same things you’d expect from a Wario game (sliding, pushing objects, collecting similar amounts of coins. There are also a few secret items to find in each level such as a doubloon hidden in every level or a townsperson every once in a while (and if you find them all, you’ll be rewarded).
The main difference between this game and other platformers, however, doesn’t involve core gameplay. Instead, the emphasis is on gamer creativity meaning you’ll have to draw many different items into existence as you play. For instance, if you reach a portion with dotted lines and a book, this means you draw something to serve as the object you need. Thus, for a ledge I drew clouds, for a floatation device I drew a tire, and my weapon was an attempt at a scimitar. Though the drawing tool isn’t the most robust, it is fairly simple to create the drawings you desire if you have some creativity. I was also happy to find that there is a grid mode that you can use if you’re in the mood to replicate pixilated pictures of your favorite old school games or cartoons.
Along the way there are numerous times to unleash your creativity. Again, it really is amazing how 5th Cell is capable of creating games that bring out the creativity of the gamer in some of the most extreme ways in all of their titles, and I and other reviewers will applaud them in every new idea that they create. Still, despite enjoying the personal touch of drawing my own objects, there were times where I felt that it can also break the flow of the gameplay (assuming you actually care about creating something that looks halfway decent). For the lazy, you can use a provided example pattern but this isn’t always an option. Nonetheless, I felt that the ability to literally bring to life the drawings you create was impressive and enjoyable (objects such as the main character or a bird, for instance, actually animate the drawing you create).
When it all comes down to it, though, the platforming levels themselves are a little too dry for my own tastes. Though there are two other forms that your character can become later in the game including a blob and a spider they don't add enough to keep the game from being stagnant nonetheless. Sure, I enjoyed games such as Wario Land 2 back in the day but nowadays, platformers have evolved quite a bit (even Wario Land 3 was an incredible evolution) and this game just feels like the gameplay portion was glossed over once again. It’s a shame too, as this was precisely the problem with the first Drawn to Life, and Scribblenauts as well, where the idea blew gamers’/critics’ minds but the overall execution seemed to lack. Thus, gamers are left with a basic, dry platformer that allows them to do some interesting mechanics through drawing (such as creating lifts and solving puzzle levels) but everything else is only average, loosely controlled platforming at best.
As with any game that has a currency, this one has plenty to unlock along the way. Everything from the large assortment of alternate hero guides or the musical database should take a while to purchase, and you can also purchase upgrades to your character’s attacks: along with the free weapon you start with, you can also buy the other two weapons in the game, all of which you will design yourself (shooter or gun, slasher or sword, and slinger which projects outward and then comes back to the hero). To help keep the experience fresh, you’ll also be able to buy two upgrades for each weapon; however, there isn’t enough upgrade content in this game to have you unlocking meaningful things throughout your entire adventure. In fact, I bought all of the weapons and upgrades before I even left the first island and found it unnecessary to even travel to the shop anymore after that. Maybe if we could have seen more weapons and more upgrades, the game might not have suffered as much from bare, repetitive gameplay.
Finally, if you’re in for some multiplayer interaction, you are given the ability to trade drawings with any of your friends that own the game. However, there are no actual multiplayer experiences in terms of actual gameplay however. I don’t really fault the game for leaving out multiplayer but if there were some sort of multiplayer experience, it might provide some enjoyable diversions from what can become a dull experience in the long run.
Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter succeeds in all the ways that the original Drawn to Life did and then some. Improving on the original game in minor ways, gamers can still enjoy literally bringing their drawings to life in this unique adventure. With that being said, the game also suffers for many of the same reasons that the original did: uninspired platforming meets a drawn out story for yet another 5th Cell title that hits home on concept but strikes out on execution. Don’t mistake that the experience is unique and probably should be played but don’t expect this to be the sleeper hit of the holiday season.