Review by Muchorattler

"A Drawing's Worth a Thousand Pixels"

Thick, foreboding clouds of darkness have settled over the previously bustling home of the Raposas—a cute, bunnylike race of creatures who once loyally busted their hides each and every day to please their omnipresent, all-knowing Creator. In the midst of the sudden winter that's followed, dozens of these villagers have fled elsewhere to escape the accompanying ominous aura while others have gone missing during what has solemnly become harsh and unforgiving times: The forests have vanished, the land has dissolved into a cold and barren wasteland, and the villagers' beloved crop of choice and seemingly only source of food, a curious type of veggie known as banya, has ceased to grow. The culprit? A ne'r-do-well Raposa by the name of Wilfre who, tempted by evil, has nabbed and ripped asunder the sacred testament to all the fruits of the Creator's labor, the celebrated Book of Life. Its mystical pages are now scattered in every which way about the many lands.

This magic book—passed down from town mayor to town mayor over the course of eons—once enclosed all that was bestowed upon the people of the land. However, the catastrophe that has erupted from the absence of the tome's contents has eliminated all but a few broken-down houses and abandoned buildings left to meagerly stand alongside the assembled shrouds of black, monster-spawning mist encircling the outskirts of town. Impending doom in undeniably around every corner.

This is where you, the Creator, step in.

If you've ever dreamt of designing your own unique protagonist, weapons, vehicles and so much more with utterly nothing at your disposal but the occasional vague outline, well then Drawn to Life is your game! As the maker and breaker of the world, your very first task is to bring to life a prodigious hero or heroine who can support the hopes and woes of the Raposa people upon his or her shoulders, and the inanimate body of a mannequin along with the almighty powers of your stylus are all you possess at your side. It's up to you to awaken your inner artist and rescue the entire land from its incessantly horrid fate.

Using a series of simple tools one would find akin to the usual icons sprinkled about the tool bar of a computer paint program, the player must first conjure up a central character of any shape, size or appearance desired. The customization process in Drawn to Life takes a step forward by allowing one to properly gauge where and how each part of their masterpiece's body will bend and pivot once animated, granted they heed what the small arrangement of lines and dots adorning each limb and joint represent; by making good use of these guidelines, the Creator can flawlessly convert a soulless dummy into a living adventurer via color and fluid movement. For those lacking skill in the art department, a plethora of pre-drawn playable templates can be chosen from and even edited to ones own liking.

It's been ages since a video game inventive enough to enable the flow of so many creative juices has come along, and throughout Drawn to Life players will be prompted to stop and decorate a particular item or group of items using the stylus in order to best encompass the proximate surroundings of each stage. Such commodities may range from a moving windmill blade or heavy boulder to a restaurant sign, a giant whale, or even a submarine. More often, contrarily, players will be challenged to devise from scratch their own doodles of flora or fauna, celestial bodies, legendary swords, and then some, enabling them to progress. On the other hand, one may elect to make a mockery of the whole concept, which is highly advisable and can be its own added fun: Sketching a camel wearing roller skates in place of a trampoline or concocting a superhero reminiscent of a tomato are just a few of the zany ideas players can bring along to the Raposa world. There's virtually no limit in sight to what you can create, just as long as your imagination holds out.

Once a stage is completed, the town mayor or his protegee of a daughter will gather any pages recovered and place them inside the Book of Life. To answer their pleas permeating the heavens, the Creator (you) must then supply whatever the salvaged pieces of paper call for: The sun, the moon, a lighthouse—you, or rather they, name it. As the landscape of the village, acting as a hub stringing all the individual worlds together, slowly restores itself in this manner and the atrocious blankets of black clouds dissipate thanks to the player's endeavors in sniffing out the missing pages, the ensuing rise in the town's population—brought about by the return of erstwhile Raposa refugees and the arrival of each stage's escaped hostages—eventually gives way to recovered homes, a reopened business (where you can use your stash of coins to purchase brand new palettes, shape stamps, mini-games, abilities, and more) and recreational spots here and there, plus various pathways leading to formerly undisclosed locations. Mission by mission, the place will finally begin to flourish once more with activity and jubilation.

Graphically speaking, the capabilities of the Nintendo DS are harshly underrepresented here, although no style is perhaps more appropriate for an innovative, two-dimensional 'draw-your-own-adventure' than the pixel-based visuals at hand. The bright colors, humorous animations and spritely characters instantly bring back abundant waves of nostalgia and the older crowd will be pleased to notice the references to games of the same nature from days gone by, including hidden goodies to collect, multiple routes and mazelike paths. On the other side of the coin, not all of Drawn to Life's innovations quite work out: The simplicity of the game may graciously appeal towards beginners to the platforming scene and is a definite ease to pick up and play casually, but hardcore veterans of the genre are prone to feel a sense of disappointment; as a side-scroller, Drawn to Life presents a rather sub-par precedent of variety and difficulty.

Your character's arsenal, while plentiful in moves and weaponry, provides a very narrow assortment of truly novel combat techniques. Bouncing upon the noggins of enemies and popping one or two caps in the backsides (or frontsides) of foes tend to serve as the only real means of attack; regardless of how flashy distinct moves acquired later on may be—a mid-air flip here and a quick, vertical sword swipe there—the effects of the acrobatics are all very much the same, shortly transforming into tired motions like their less inspired counterparts. But despite these tiring tactics and lack of lasting challenge, the leagues of areas to explore and constant alterations in scenery keep the gameplay fresh and engrossing.

Needless to say, don't expect a platforming affair on par with the earlier entries to the Mario series, but at the same time don't chalk this one up as a failure of a game wrapped in impressive gimmicks. If anything else, Drawn to Life falls in between the two, maintaining a happy medium much like so many other titles of the modern day. No doubt an enhanced difficulty setting or two could have benefited verily, as would have a smidgen of thoughtful strategy among the handful of boss battles for the seasoned gamer, yet young and old alike should be able to overlook the few shortcomings and enjoy one of the most distinguished games ever conceived.

If you can grip a stylus then there should be plenty of incentive for you to give Drawn to Life a well-deserved run, especially for those of you who're artistically inclined. Besides, how many other titles can honestly claim to be an entirely new experience each playthrough without reverting back to the same old thing—and actually mean it?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/21/07

Game Release: Drawn to Life (US, 09/10/07)

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