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December 17, 2007

Best. DS Game. Ever. (a.k.a. REVIEW: Drawn To Life)

So I was sitting in the bathroom at work a few months ago...


Oh, the bathroom thing? Take it easy. I'm going somewhere with this. Trust me.

So like I say, I was just sitting there, minding my own business, leafing through one of the many game industry magazines put there for our reading pleasure, when lo and behold, I saw an ad that caught my attention.

Apparently, there was a game called Drawn to Life for the Nintendo DS handheld system, that was going to be hitting store shelves in the coming weeks. It seems that players would be able to draw their own characters, and play as them in the game. Intrigued, I ripped the ad out of the magazine...


Oh, the ripping out thing? Take it easy. I checked the other side, and there was nothing of value there. Trust me.

So like I say, I ripped the ad out of the magazine so I wouldn't forget the name of the game when I got home that night.

Anyhoo, fast forward a few weeks. I ended up getting the game, and it's been one of the best gaming discoveries I've ever made. My kids absolutely love it.

Once you start to play the active platforming part of the game, you will experience what is admittedly some fairly pedestrian 2D side-scrolling. You jump on some bad guys in Mario-esque Koopa-jumping fashion. You jump from platform to platform, hither and yon, collecting coins, hoarding snowballs, and trying to reach your next goal. All well and good, and your kids will enjoy it. But it's certainly not good enough to earn the kind of praise I lavished on this game earlier.

I could also go into more detail about the story. The Raposa, Mari, Jowee, the evil, power-hungry Wilfire, and the darkness he inflicted on the peaceful village. And so on and so on. Also all well and good. And your kids will enjoy the cute story as well. But like the platforming gameplay, the story is also not good enough to earn such over the top kudos.

True enough. So here endeth the part of the review about what makes Drawn to Life like so many other games...


...and here beginneth the part about what makes Drawn to Life truly special.

As you may have guessed, what makes Drawn to Life so amazing for kids is that they can use the stylus to draw their very own characters and play as those characters in the game.

With such a compelling, kid-friendly hook, it simply doesn't matter that the platforming gameplay has a been-there, done-that quality to it, and that the story is good but not awesome. The drawing mechanic is so delightful that it will raise those game elements to new heights. Like Michael Jordan elevating the play of the Luc Longleys and Steve Kerrs of the world, the drawing feature makes its teammates better.

Depending on their preferences, your kids can make their characters as simple as a stick figure, or they can spend as much time as they want crafting the ultimate avatar. There are also optional templates available. It's up to each child to make that decision on his or her own: they're in charge.

Speaking of being in charge, let me go back to the story for a second. While I did say that the story is good, but not great, what is great is that the story casts every player as "The Creator" and as such, every player gets to create his or her very own hero (as well as in-game elements like platforms, a forest, clouds, the sun, characters, snowball-shooting weapons, etc.).

So now let's review...

In Drawn to Life, your child is The Creator, and his/her custom-created character is The Hero.


So if you have a Nintendo DS, do what I did.
Go buy Drawn to Life, and your children's love with it. :)

EDIT: I forgot mention that there are only 2 save profiles. If you have up to 2 kids who want to play this game, then you're golden. If you have more, then you might have a problem. My son and daughter each have a saved profile, and when I wanted to play the game myself last week, I couldn't create my own without erasing one of theirs. Unless I just missed something and couldn't see how to do it.

EDIT #2: I also forgot to mention that this isn't the first game to come up with the create-then-play-with-your-own-custom-character gameplay mechanic. Magic Pengel and sequel Graffiti Kingdom tried this before Drawn to Life, far less successfully. While those games had to rely on the PS2 controller's analog sticks for character creation, Drawn to Life employs the DS' uber-intuitive and precise stylus, and that makes all the difference in the world.


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