Coming in the wake of its below average-rated predecessor, Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter is a game that not only has a lot of potential but also a lot to make up for. As a concept it’s a good one: you get to draw your very own character as well as various in-game elements including platforms, falling blocks and even a surf-board to interact with during your platform adventure.
Sound good so far? Well in theory it should do, though in practice the unfortunate truth is that yet again Drawn to Life is something of a letdown. We begin, then, with the story.
Set in a world inhabited by strange creatures that look like a cross between cats and rabbits, we follow our main heroes Mari and Jowee as they seek to return the colour that has been stolen from the world by the evil Wilfre – a symbiotic creature that has taken control of their friend Heather. In so doing they travel on the back of a giant turtle they have taken to using as a ship which they use to travel between game worlds.
As far as heroes go, Mari and Jowee aren’t really very good at this “hero business”, which is where you come in as “the Creator” (a.k.a. “God”). You help them in their quest by creating a hero that travels with them to do all the “hero stuff” that Mari and Jowee mysteriously can’t seem to do on their own.
Now this is all well and good; as a plot it certainly has potential, but it’s in the delivery that the game falls down. Mysteriously, the game designers have decided to overlook - or perhaps ignore - the slightly puzzling creator-paradox that means because you are the Creator, you can return colour to any area you so choose if the characters ask you nicely enough during the course of the main story. You find yourself wondering then, why you had to bother with the whole “creating a hero” thing and doing things the hard way when you could have just returned colour to the whole world from the outset if the characters had asked you to. It would certainly have saved you a lot of bother, but then it also would have been De Blob, creating a far more preferable scenario overall.
As a platformer, Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter is fairly weak. The game suffers from overly simplistic level designs that never really grow substantially in complexity or indeed difficulty: each level is generally fairly short and even the most casual of gamers out there will be left wanting more. Combined with the issues of the platforming itself, there’s also just so much dialogue between levels (all of which requires you to press A to read through) that the game suffers quite badly in terms of pacing and you’re left wishing they would all just shut up and let you play! Not only is there a lot of dialogue, but a lot of it feels unnecessary, and to older gamers especially the plotting can feel overly-contrived and even a little sickly at times as we’re encouraged to believe in characters that are, quite simply, unbelievable.
Do you, like us, remember the “good old days” of Mario and Sonic? Do you remember the good old days, where platformers were platformers and story came a definite second to gameplay and well-constructed set pieces? Yes? Well playing Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter certainly makes you wish you were back in the old days.
So we have then, the issues of story and platforming out of the way. What about the game’s key unique selling point: the ability to literally draw things to life?
Admittedly there have been some improvements over the first game. The design tools are better, if still lacking in terms of colour tones and a very noticeable lack of line-tool.Gamers with less than steady stylus-hands will certainly struggle when asked to create items such as platforms on what is, in reality, a very small design area using a stylus that isn’t very well adapted to doing small intricate designs. The unimaginative or unartistic of you out there will also find more often than not that designing items that sometimes only get used once in-game can feel like something of a wasted effort. Given that the story drags so much, you would much prefer to be actually playing the game rather than designing something you’re only going to use once!
The striking imbalance between long cut-scenes and short levels doesn’t help things here. When the game’s default alternatives are so much better designed than anything most people could come up with on a small DS screen, is it any wonder after the initial fun of creating a few in-game items, many of you out there will no doubt do as this reviewer did and click on the default model? Given the fact most of your designs will appear only semi-regularly at best, one wonders what the point is in designing anything at all, save the hero.
Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter is a game with potential; a lot of potential. Unfortunately in many respects the designers seem to have been sorely lacking in the strength of their own convictions. The whole “drawn to life” concept is a good one, but the game is let down by uninspired platforming levels and a story that sucks any life out of the gameplay. Combine this with the fact that your designs rarely feature in the game and you have a very half-hearted effort of a game. It could have been a work of art, but instead it's just a messy scribble.