Whether it’s a daydreaming doodle in a school textbook or a sneaky sketch during a work meeting, we’ve all probably spent a little too much time making up crudely-drawn stickmen over the years. It’s one of those instantly familiar forms of childhood storytelling, and it’s a conceit that helps bring the cute world of Draw A Stickman: EPIC 2 to life with an affable sense of charm and creativity.
Things start out innocently enough. First, you draw your own hero (using either the touchscreen or ZL/ZR and the analog sticks) before sketching out a fellow, stick-based friend. It’s a relatively basic drawing suite, but with a few colours and sizes to choose from there’s the option to create a relatively detailed new character a classic stick-based chap. However, the good times soon make way for doom and gloom as a spilled bottle of ink turns your friendly chum into a dastardly nemesis.
Before you know it, your newly-inked foe jumps into a storytelling book, rips up its pages and causes all sorts of villainous trouble within. So it’s up to you and your sketched avatar to leap after them and pen a plan to save the day. At its core, DAS:E2 is basically a simplified action-RPG that combines exploration, environmental puzzle solving and combat into a cute package that boasts some pleasingly deep mechanics within its seemingly simple concept.
As shocking as it sounds for a game with the word ‘draw’ in the title, flexing your artistic muscles really is the key to success. Its creative setup might not be as grand as, say Scribblenauts Unlimited, but it's still a fun mechanic to mess around with. You can even sketch your own tools and weapons; in fact, there’s something quite satisfying about seeing your avatar - however convincing or laughably bad they might look - carrying around one of your own poor attempts to draw a pickaxe. Each tool enables you to perform a new task, such as destroying rocks and boulders to reach new areas or attacking certain enemies, although they do feel a little redundant compared to the more versatile pencils unlocked throughout the story.
With these you can draw leaves on dead trees (which protect you from the inked monsters that roam the over-inked pages of the storybook), or sketch sheets of ice to freeze rivers so you can reach further sections of the map. There’s a rewarding systemic balance to the rate at which these powers are revealed, as well as the way in which each one interacts with one another. Rain clouds, for instance, can make your newly revitalised trees expand, increasing their effect and dispelling pools of nasty ink to reveal seemingly inaccessible collectibles.
These trinkets also feed into the rest of the game by expanding your creative repertoire. Colour Buddies are one such collectible item, with each one unlocking more colourful shades for use when drawing tools. These might seem a little pointless, but when you consider tools such as keys correspond to locks of a certain colour, you realise there’s a practical necessity to returning to previously completed levels to seek out items that were once tantalisingly out of reach.
However, not every ability-toting pencil feels as inherently creative as the next. The power to draw eggs, for instance, only has a limited use across the main game’s eight levels, making it somewhat limited by comparison. On the flipside, the power to draw colour-coded wires serves as the most dynamic of the entire set, requiring a mixture of creative thinking and careful placement to link batteries and switches that swap colours.
Unfortunately, this particular power - along with the drawing suite itself - does reveal how clunky sketching can be. Using the shoulder buttons and the analog sticks is incredibly unintuitive, effectively forcing you to use the touchscreen for all freeform creations. It doesn’t break the game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a shame to see one part of an otherwise excellent game feel partially unsuited to the platform.
The main game’s story does feel a little short by the time the credits roll (although there is some replay value to be found in seeking out those missing collectibles), but when you factor in the entire Down Below expansion (which strips away your power-related pencils and forces you to track them down with a series of progressively tougher puzzles) bundled in on top, DAS:E2 becomes of one of the most rewarding and charming ports on Nintendo Switch to date.
Despite a few niggles with the implementation of its drawing mechanics on a button-based handheld, Draw A Stickman: EPIC 2 remains one of the most creative genre mashups we’ve played on Switch. With a splash of RPG, a sprinkling of puzzle solving and a generous dollop of creativity, you end up with a recipe for family friendly entertainment that feels fresh and new on Nintendo's hybrid console (even if it has been out on PC for over two years already). Add in the Down Below DLC as standard and it’s not hard to draw your own conclusions on this little gem.