IGN Review of Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants Edition
Whenever I bring up the state of the handheld gaming industry regarding original titles versus licensed titles, I always seem to use Spongebob Squarepants as the best example. Retailers want to guarantee sales, so games without a brand attached to it always seem to get the shaft in favor of the Spongebob titles. So isn't it funny that THQ, after taking that risk with an original title in the form of Drawn to Life, follows up that game with the "guarantee" branding of Spongebob Squarepants. I can't say I'm shocked or surprised; after all companies make games to make money, and it's pretty much a shoo-in that – better or worse -- Drawn to Life: Spongebob Squarepants Edition will sell considerably better than the game that inspired it. Luckily the game within the packaging doesn't sully the name that 5th Cell created. It's a good, solid platformer that doesn't quite reach the creative high of the original game. But kids are going to love all the things they can doodle up to make the game their own.
The original team moved on to bigger and better things (Lock's Quest) once last year's Drawn to Life hit the scene, so for this branded follow-up – let's not call it a sequel – THQ went with its standby-studio Altron to handle the development. Much of what 5th Cell put into the original Drawn to Life has pretty much been applied to the Spongebob Squarepants game: the design is a traditional side-scrolling platform design with heavy emphasis on giving players the ability to customize the main character, gameplay objects and sprites using a touch-screen art program. Scribbles become enemies, friends, platforms, springs, gears…and because it's all up to the gamer's art skill, the game can either be pure or downright crude…with the scale sliding heavily towards the latter. I'm looking at you, Junior.
The big difference between this Drawn to Life game and last year's original is, essentially, the revolving universe the game takes place in: where 5th Cell created a fantastical world specific to last year's game, Spongebob Edition obviously takes place in Stephen Hillenburg's wacky seascape. In fact, Drawn to Life: Spongebob Edition is actually based upon specific episodes of the cartoon where an evil drawing comes to life: DoodleBob is this game's nemesis, and you actually play a "good" doodle of Patrick's to thwart the babbling black and white scribble that's blotching up the Spongebob world.
It's hard to say if Spongebob Edition is actually using any of the tech from the original Drawn to Life, but at the very least the games share similar interfaces in their similar designs. The art program to draw up all the editable game sprites is pretty much identical between the two versions. There's just way more to edit in Spongebob Edition – we're pretty sure that this game has much more save RAM in the cartridge than the original title, a hypothesis emphasized by one of the longest save file initializations we've ever experienced on the Nintendo DS. Luckily this is a one-time thing at the first power-up of the game, but prepare for some lengthy pauses for when you save the game during the action.
I definitely appreciate the original Drawn to Life because the creators had to start from scratch with not just its original concept, but also in its characters and storytelling. Spongebob Edition relies on the familiar: we already know the Spongebob crew from the hundreds of episodes on television as well as the influx of licensed products already on the market. The original Drawn to Life has a much better, fleshed out, almost Japanese RPG-influenced presentation compared to the Spongebob follow-up that hastily tells the Doodlebob story through sloppy cutscenes that awkwardly flipflop between 3D models and 2D talking heads. These guys don't even have voices beyond the random "Ack!" that don't even sound like they were recorded by the original actors.
But it's hard not to notice that the actual gameplay of Spongebob Edition feels a bit tighter and faster-paced than the original Drawn to Life. Neither game in the Drawn to Life series are all that remarkable in their 2D platforming; they're both rather typical run/jump/butt-stomp designs with tons of token collecting used to upgrade your character, and lots of touch screen "scribbling" to get rid of all the inkblotches in each of the levels. Spongebob Edition is a little "peppier" with a little better collision detection and a faster, more energetic speed. And, since the publisher gave the game a bigger amount of save RAM you have more creative input on what shows up in-game.
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