Over on the Nintendo DS, Drawn to Life hit the system's cartridge slot about two years ago and cast you as the Creator, an omniscient being who could create a hero, weapons, and more just by doodling on the touch screen. The title found success with its creation aspect and platforming mix, and just this week spawned the sequel, Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter on both the DS and Wii.
After reviewing the portable version yesterday, I can tell you that both versions pack pieces of greatness but neither end up being anything but a passable platformer.
Make me a plant!
Even though the original game never came to the Wii, The Next Chapter picks up where Drawn to Life left off -- although this is using the same characters to tell a sequel story that is different than the one found on the DS. Here, the Raposa race is living peacefully in their little village under the new rule of Mayor Mari, when things begin to go awry. Doors are being stolen, critical items like bridges have vanished, and so on. It's up to you (the Creator) to craft a hero to platform through the levels in front of you and set things right.
From the overworld -- a line of houses and buildings making up Mari's town – you'll run around getting bits of a paper-thin story and accepting whatever your next task is. From there, you'll run to the portal containing the level you need to jump into, and have at a platforming adventure as you move from the left side of your TV screen to the right side. Along the way, you'll use the character you've whipped up and be making stuff like cars, weapons, and accessories on the spot.
Creating stuff in The Next Chapter is both the hook and one of the drawbacks of this Drawn to Life. Over on the DS, you can just draw with your stylus and make everything look as accurate as your steady hand will allow. That's not the case on the Wii. Here, the Wii-mote is your pen, and because there isn't that tactile response, your moves are significantly less precise. You can zoom in nice and close and adjust the size for the stamp using or brush stroke you're making, but it is never as spot-on as being able to touch the screen with the tip of your stylus. You're just moving around on the TV screen for some squiggly lines, and there's no way to link your DS for use on the Wii.
This sucks because the creation tool suite is intuitive enough for anyone to get into with a paint can, pencil, shape generators and so on. As you play, you'll come across a farmer that needs you to draw the plants he'll grow, hooks for you to spin from, and bridges for you to cross. You can create these objects – although most will be simple, crayon-looking things – in a hot minute and move on.
Trouble is, parts of the paint tool are actually broken. When we were fiddling around with the Hero creation part – this is where you create your character's head, arms, body, and legs in on-screen guide boxes – we ran into a strange bug. With the character's face completely pink, we'd make white circles with the circle tool. When we went to use the paint can to fill the pink section of the circles with white, the entire face would turn white. For some reason, the game wasn't reading the white outlines of the eyes as a border. Similarly, when we drew hair on the character's head and filled that in, there was a border of pixels that didn't fill in. I had to go in and color them in with the paint brush.
These are the basics of a paint tool, and it's pretty embarrassing that THQ missed them.
Still, it needs to be pointed out that you can make some good looking stuff and your created visuals actually work really well with the world, which couldn't be said for the DS version of the game. Over on the portable, you had these watercolor-looking worlds with these primary color-driven, user-created pieces. This was a stark contrast of pieces that didn't mesh together. On the Wii, your pieces are still simple bright objects, but so is the rest of the world. When you're hopping through a level, everything looks like it belongs together.
Even cooler is the implementation of in-level creating without a break in the gameplay. See, on the DS, you have to stop the platforming sections to draw paths over pits and so on. Here on the Wii, you'll often come across sections on the screen that are boxes created by either a blue dotted line or a red dotted line. If it's blue, you can draw whatever you want in it – usually horizontal lines for steps and platforms – so that you can then jump onto the creation and make it to an otherwise unreachable area. If it's red, it's a physics-based creation space so anything you create is going to fall from the box or hinge on pivot points upon completion; this way, you can roll a ball, use a line as a seesaw, and so on.
By themselves, those creation boxes are cool, but they're even better when puzzles start combining the two so that you're hopping off of the red object you just made and drawing a blue line to land while you're in mid-air. There are a few other cool moments like this in the game, but they don't save the experience.
Cars go vroom.
Still, Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter is far perfect in-game. Lots of the enemies you're fighting (seed-spitting baddies and little baseball-looking things scurrying around your ankles) blend in too well with their surroundings. I can't tell you how many times I'd be motoring through a level and run into a baddie I couldn't even see since his texture looked just like the jungle floor or whatever level I was in.
On top of that, the pacing is screwed up. Whereas the DS suffered from getting bogged down in the story, the tale is manageable. The trouble is that the game's levels are broken up a bit goofily. So there's the overworld map with townspeople and buildings, but this also has the gateways to the game's four platforming worlds. When you enter one of these sections, you're presented with a handful of levels that unlock one by one. Thing is, you have to get a reason to go to the next world from the townspeople. So, you'll be in the world, need to leave, run around the overworld looking for the next person to send you on a quest, run back to the level-world, go in, and choose the now available level.
It's clear who you need to talk to in order to advance the story, but it's still a lame mechanic that will bore you to death as you run from one side of the world to the other to bolt back to where you began. Toss in the fact that there's a noticeable load every time you jump in or out of the level world (along with a 20-second load to start the game), and you're going to be sick of waiting to play by the time Drawn to Life actually lets you get to the matters at hand. Once you're in the levels, I found most of my completions taking me around nine minutes, which felt way, way too long since a set of levels all feel the same.
There's a multiplayer component to Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter, but it is seriously terrible. Rather than have a buddy join you for the platforming, you and a friend can enter into one of four mini-sports games (soccer, hockey, basketball, or volleyball) with your created characters. These games barely work. There's no real defense for any of them, you're characters are running around like idiots, and there's not even an animation for the ball going into the hoop in basketball. It's insulting these things are even on the disc.
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