Crispy Gamer

Drawn to Life (DS)

When it comes to storylines, Drawn to Life is as trite as they come: A shadow-like evil has enveloped a village, so the townspeople summon your help as a hero to save them from doom. Yawn.
But how you play out this quest is what separates this innovative THQ platformer from all the other action-adventure games of this kind.

Specifically, if you couldn't guess by its name, Drawn to Life lets you draw many elements of the game to truly personalize the experience -- from the heroes you'll create to environmental aids such as clouds on which to jump and vines to climb to the weapons you'll use to fight back against the evil taking over these lands. Whenever there's an opportunity to draw on the Nintendo DS screen using the stylus pen, a small wooden sign appears, which you can tap to open up the palette and canvas; a small dotted outline gives you some guidance, but it's up to you to choose the size and shape of the brush and the colors to use before saving your creation to the game's cartridge. If you want to add finer detail to your artwork, you can zoom in by pressing the B button (which magnifies the image) and/or choose to see your image as a grid to paint by square.

Once you name and draw your hero -- perhaps with brown spiky hair and matching goatee, a blue shirt with a silver sword on it, and green baggy pants, for example -- it is then animated in this virtual world. (Later on in the game you will create three more heroes, with unique powers). If you like, you can trade your creations with other Nintendo DS users wirelessly via the Wi-Fi connection.

Drawn to Life's gameplay is divided into three sections: the drawing screen, which eventually fills of the game's Book Up Life with dozens of items; a town layout where you'll interact with characters, take on missions, and visit buildings such as stores from a top-down perspective; and the main game in which you'll spend most of your time, best described as a Mario-inspired 2-D platformer that has you jumping, climbing, collecting coins and magical parchments, and rescuing townsfolk locked in tiny cages.

At times you'll be tasked to draw vehicles to navigate around the game, such as a submarine to go underwater or a hang glider or rocket to soar through the air. You can also find secrets including bonus music tracks to listen to while playing and stamps to further decorate the objects or heroes you're drawing.

In this generic but fun platformer portion of the game -- with environments that range from snowy mountains to tropical forests -- you'll also be using the stylus pen to rub out the evil black blobs that are taking over the world (a meter shows you how much more you need to erase in order to reach 100 percent) as well as jumping on the black blob baddies who come to life and damage your hero if they touch him. Each time you're hit by an enemy more of your 'paint' comes off. The way to defeat most enemies in this game, such as black birds that descend from above and evil snowmen who throw snowballs, is to jump on top of them, sometimes numerous times, until they disappear. You can also draw yourself a gun and other projectile weapons to tackle enemies, but jumping tends to work the best. Or you could just avoid them if you like, but it's not as much fun.

There's quite a bit of meat here with well over a dozen hours of gameplay spread between all the platformer elements, village dialogue and missions, and drawing in your Book of Life. Sure, the gameplay itself is fairly simplistic, and it hardly pushes the 2-D platformer envelope, but it should definitely satiate finicky gamers with its non-gimmicky drawing feature and clever use of the stylus pen.

But it's not a perfect adventure. The biggest beef with Drawn to Life is the lack of saved game spots. That is, I don't mind videogames with an auto-game feature, but players will be forced to replay portions of the game if they lose their life. For example, I died right near the end of Banya Fields, where all four pieces of the parchment were collected and all three townsfolk were found and rescued (it took about 40 minutes to find all the coins and secrets). But because I was out of lives, I had to repeat the entire level from the very beginning all over again. Thank you, game developer, but I have better things to do with my time than play the exact same part again for another 40 minutes. Sigh.

Secondly, the game isn't always the most responsive when controlling your character. For example, a typical move to smash open boxes below you is the 'bum stomp,' in which you press down on the four-way directional pad while your character jumps in the air. At times this worked flawlessly, while at other times the hero wouldn't perform the move at all.

Overall, however, THQ's Drawn to Life offers up a unique concept that has a lot going for it. This solid B-title is fun and accessible and really shines in giving you the ability to create parts of the game world however you like. It truly takes advantage of the Nintendo DS' touch screen and stylus.

While not a flawless adventure, it's one worth recommending for gamers on the go who'd enjoy unleashing a little creativity.

This review was based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.