My experience with the Drawn to Life franchise is limited. I never played Drawn to Life for the Nintendo DS, though it was on my “to play” list. Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter for both the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo 3DS enticed me further. It also made the list. Like most items on that list, I never got around to playing it. Honestly, I even forgot the franchise existed until some point earlier this year. It was at that point that my strongest Drawn to Life-related memory came rushing back to me. In that memory, I am working at GameStop and processing a return of Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter for an unhappy customer. The customer’s reason for return? Drawn to Life is, as he put it, “not at all like Scribblenauts,” even though both titles were developed by 5th Cell. Of course, Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter wasn’t meant to be anything like Scribblenauts. The newest title, Drawn to Life: Two Realms, continues the series’ tradition of being not at all like Scribblenauts. That said, it isn’t all that much like Drawn to Life, either.
To a degree, that’s to be expected. Drawn to Life: Two Realms was designed to work on platforms with more traditional control schemes. As such, it can’t lean on the novelty of drawing in-game items using a stylus or Wii Remote. The new approach for navigating the game’s puzzles and platforms demonstrates that the Drawn to Life series has the potential to thrive in the absence of drawing. Drawn to Life: Two Realms doesn’t manage to realize this potential, though. Instead, it feels more like a rough sketch of what could have been.
Fans of the series might be happy to learn that the high-stakes story in Drawn to Life: Two Realms picks up where its predecessors left off. You don’t need to be familiar with the story so far to follow along, though. The game’s premise is that the world is in peril and there’s only one entity powerful enough to save it: some mannequin-looking thing that you, the Creator, color and decorate with stickers. But the entity will need the help of a returning character named Mike. In addition to helping the hero, Mike also brings some much-needed personality to the narrative.
After an opening cutscene, you will be given a chance to create your version of the hero. There are a lot of different approaches one can take in terms of design, and more options will be unlocked as you progress through the story. Personally, I opted for simplicity and used a watermelon-themed color scheme, sunglasses and a funny mustache. I then named my hero “Art,” which seemed like a clever idea at the time. Little did I know that Art wouldn’t have much opportunity to engage in artistic pursuits. Coloring him is the primary connection between the gameplay and the title’s use of the word “drawn.”
Instead of doing art, the Hero uses a powerful tome to enter the minds of others. Once he is in their minds, he will stomp out creatures called “toys” and jump through portals. Doing so will eliminate the host’s unpleasant thoughts and modify their behavior. Ethically speaking, it’s hard to classify this as heroic behavior, but I suppose you have to make some pretty difficult choices when the fate of the world is on the line.
Levels are divided into small, bite-sized stages that commonly task the player with the goal of reaching a portal or eliminating all monsters. The platforming elements in these stages are consistent with the genre in that they do require some precise timing, which would be easier to appreciate if the game had precise controls. Where the game differs from most is in the way it introduces puzzle mechanics to the platforming. Traversing stages and clearing enemies require solutions of varying complexities. Every so often, the game presents a level that showcases the game’s potential with perfect clarity. Most of these stages involve placing toys across the stage before taking control of the hero. These toys have a range of different behaviors, the most common of which is to attack the player character. The small stage designs allow the player to comprehend all the moving parts with relative ease. As a result, the developers can incorporate more challenging puzzles. I wish that they incorporated them a bit more often, but an interesting roster of enemies can sometimes compensate for the less exciting puzzles. Additionally, the smaller stages do wonders to mitigate the frustration of consistent failure on levels that demand precision or require a healthy dose of trial and error.
Between these gameplay segments, you will navigate an open-world from plot point to plot point. The human realm is a bizarre setting with a day and night cycle that will complete its cycle in the time it takes to travel a few blocks. There are characters you can encounter along your path and their dialogue is often humorous or tinted with a simmering darkness. But they don’t have much to say and the world begins to feel empty before long. I stopped wandering and focused on reaching objectives after a while. The ratio of story to gameplay is an oddity in that a wealth of story has a negative effect on the pacing of gameplay. These open-world sections which, overall, feel pointless exacerbate the issue.
I did enjoy parts of my time with Drawn to Life: Two Realms. Some puzzles are satisfying in a way that would raise my expectations. As a result, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for me to overthink puzzles. There were exciting moments that gave way to disappointment when I would come up with novel solutions that just fall short of being effective. Eventually, I would realize that small adjustments weren’t the answer. After enough occurrences where the solution in my head was more exciting to me than the comparatively direct path to the exit, I stopped overthinking things.
Drawn to Life was, at best, a game of mediocre quality to many but it did resonate with some. Writing this review feels like delivering bad news to this latter group, which has had to wait over a decade for a new game. They had to weather the collapse of THQ, the now defunct publisher of the original Drawn to Life games. On the plus side, the game released at the low price point of $9.99 and there is, arguably, ten dollars’ worth of solid content hidden amongst the more questionable choices. Unfortunately though, Drawn to Life: Two Realms lacks the freedom and novelty of its predecessors, and even though it takes strides to create a satisfying new experience, the end result feels unimaginative.
Drawn to Life: Two Realms is available for the Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android, and the PC via Steam.