Drawn To Life: Two Realms is the second sequel in a series that last came out in 2009, the same year that Obama first came to office. It's a lifetime ago. No one had "new Drawn To Life" game on their 2020 bingo, yet here it is anyway, attempting to revitalise and reinvent a beloved cult classic that found its home on the DS.
Where the first two Drawn To Life games were all about simple platforming, drawing your own weapons and platforms, and a horrific twist ending that scarred thousands of children worldwide, Drawn To Life: Two Realms is all about taking a new tack. The simple platforming is replaced by self-contained puzzle-platforming levels that require you to complete tasks to advance the plot. The drawing weapons and platforms is no longer in the game – a bizarre decision that largely invalidates the point of the Drawn To Life series – although players will be glad to know they can draw their own Hero. Unfortunately, the game has no touchscreen controls, leaving you to try to make a coherent Hero with fiddly joystick controls. Stickers are available to make the design process easier, but most are locked away behind plot progress and purchases, implying that the Hero should be redesigned throughout the game.
At least the game's narrative follows on from the aforementioned horrific twist ending, in which the deuteragonist, Mike, is involved in a fatal car accident that kills his parents, revealing that the whole game was a coma dream (apologies for the decade-old spoiler, guys). Mike returns in Drawn To Life: Two Realms with his sister Heather and his fox/cat-like Raposa friends, Jowee and Mari, all of whom are now involved in a plot to defeat the nebulous Shadow in order to save the world. The Hero – your playable character and the sort-of protagonist of the game – mostly stands idly by while the plot happens between other people, waiting to find out how they can help. It doesn't particularly matter what their issue is, because they're all solved the same way: by completing puzzle-platforming levels.
There are several types of these platforming levels, which usually come in sequential groups of three, and must all be completed in one go in order to progress. The first is straightforward: reach the goal. The second is to defeat all the toys – Drawn To Life's monsters that range from Goomba-like Bakis to bouncy spring-loaded cyclops-things, to buff bears that lob swordfish at you – and reach the goal.
The third and fourth types appear as you progress further, and are by far the least polished and most brain-punchingly frustrating. One requires you to place the toys by hand, Super Mario Maker-style, in order to reach the goal. There's little in the way of instruction, and oftentimes there are new mechanics that are not obvious at all, like an octopus that shoots bubbles which you can actually ride in. This leads to being stuck a lot of the time, and solving these puzzles is less trial-and-error and more banging your head against a wall until you accidentally discover what you're supposed to do. The other type of level, which appears about halfway into the game, is an escort mission (everyone's favourite!) in which a "Dreamer" automatically walks forwards, with no sense of self-preservation, and it's up to you to move platforms, stand on switches, and defeat enemies until they reach safety.
These levels must be completed perfectly, or you'll be booted back to the beginning and forced to start again. Accidentally bumping into an enemy, mistiming a jump, or falling into a hole are all easy ways to start over, even though a lot of these are down to the slightly janky design of the levels. The movement is slow, the jumping is floaty and hard to control, and some enemies are safe to touch from one angle, but deadly from another for no particular reason. The rules feel like they're constantly changing, and not in a fun "new toys to play with!" way, and when the levels become huge, sprawling areas in the later game, it feels like a Sisyphean torture to have to repeat them over and over to get them right.
It's a shame that the puzzle-platforming levels are so frustratingly tough to finish, and that the story is shallow, because the art is absolutely stunning. The backgrounds and the character animations would be right at home in a sweet little game about living in a peaceful village and farming turnips to sell in the café you run. When the plot fails, it's the art that clutches at your heart still; when the frustration of the snail-slow character movement or the difficulty of a level makes you want to quit, it's the art that brings you back.
Drawn To Life: Two Realms is beautiful, but it's just not a very good game. The puzzle-platforming, despite being the main way to play the game, is mostly duff. The main quests feel more like side quests: inconsequential and unimportant. The game completely fails to understand what made Drawn To Life special, doing away with most of the actual drawing, and making the stuff that remains painful and annoying to draw. It's not very fun to explore the world, because the Hero moves like someone trying to take as long as possible to get to their destination; the addition of floating fruits that let you sprint for a few short seconds just serves to make you wonder why you can't just... sprint normally.
At just £8.99, though, it might well be worth a gamble for fans of the series, but anyone who doesn't already have nostalgia for this game is probably best giving it a miss.
Drawn To Life: Two Realms is a sequel that fails to replicate what made the Drawn To Life games so compelling: the actual drawing part. It's pretty (and pretty cheap), but the puzzle-platforming underwhelms and the story drags; if you're a hardcore fan of the franchise then we dare say you'll be able to extract a modicum of enjoyment here, but there's an equal chance that, as a series aficionado, the changes made to the basic gameplay will annoy you the most.