Review: Drawn to Life: Two Realms

Drawn to life is back, though sadly without the spark of the original.

Console: Nintendo Switch

In November of last year, a game was announced in a series that I thought would never receive a new entry: Drawn to Life. The original Drawn to Life was released on the Nintendo DS in 2007. The game puts the player in the role of the ‘creator’ in the world of the cat/fox/dog like Raposa. As the creator, you’re capable of creating all different kinds of objects and even creatures in the Raposa world by drawing them on the DS’s touchscreen. You, using your own created ‘hero’ are tasked by free a cursed village from the rising darkness. You do this by using your drawing ability in conjunction with making you way across the world through platforming levels.

The game was successful, spawning a multiplatform sequel and a spin-off/crossover with Spongebob Squarepants. Unfortunately for fans like me, Drawn to Life’s developer THQ filed for bankruptcy in 2013, essentially dooming the series. Until that faithful announcement last November that 505 Games had acquired the franchise and was releasing a new entry in the series: Is Drawn to Life: Two Realms. I’m sad to say though that Two Realms isn’t the triumphant return of the series that many might have hoped for. It’s a very mixed bag of a game that has a lot to love but also a lot of frustrating elements and design decisions that bring the whole experience down.

Let's dive in.

To help you better understand the premise of Two Realms I do feel I need to tell you the ending of the previous Drawn to Life game. The ending of the last game in the series, the Next Chapter, revealed that the entire world of the Raposa was nothing more than imaginary coma world of the lone human in the game, Mike. He landed in a coma after a car accident (which also killed his parents) and the game ends with him finally waking up. 

Drawn to Life: Two Realms is set four years after this devastating ending. The Raposa have been relegated to his subconscious, though are still alive and have been busy expanding their village. The darkness, however, is rising once more and has now found a way to enter the real world. To stop the darkness the mayor of Raposa Village, Mari, appeals to the creator once more resulting in a new hero being created. Using the book of creation, the hero can travel between the Raposa and Human worlds to stop the rising darkness. Along the way, the hero not only helps out Mike with his personal struggles but the entire human town of Belleview.

I give the story of Two Realms props for tackling the tragic ending of the previous game head-on. With how much of a gut-punch and tragic that ending was, I would have thought that Two Realms would have retconned it. They haven’t done that, instead of making it the most integral part of the story, to mixed results. The story of the original games was always a highlight. They were multi-layered and emotional, yet fun. Even if some of the plot beats were rather standard, the dialogue was always well written. While the latter is still true, there are a lot of little winks and nods in it alongside a plethora of humour, the story of Two Realms just isn’t any good. It has the makings of a good story, many interesting ideas like the player jumping into people’s subconscious to help them out with personal problems has potential. However, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. It fails to anything meaningful with its concepts, resulting in a lot of lost potential.

All in all, the story is not terrible, it has some great ideas but fails to implement them in any interesting way. It just goes through the motions at a point and ends up shallow and forgettable.

To make drawing capable using a standard controller, you’re capable of controlling the speed at which you draw. It’s a bit awkward at the beginning, but you’ll get used to it before long. Mechanically speaking, the only problem with the drawing is that even though the Switch has a touchscreen you can’t use it to draw. Quite an annoying oversight, but one they did thankfully fixed after a few weeks.

The drawing tool with my own created hero. Yes, he's extremely blocky but this is the same way I made my original hero way back in 2007 and I wanted to keep said style the same. Nostalgia, it can be very strong!

The implementation of the drawing into the gameplay is not handled as well. From an integral aspect to the entire game in the original games, it’s now relegated to nothing more than a novelty. The only real impact your drawing skills have is creating your own hero. Other moments of drawing objects, like a statue, are nothing more than optional tasks. A far cry from the original, in which you drew platforms for, well, you platforming, weapons to defeat enemies and much more. Considering the name for the series is literally DRAWN to Life this is a very disappointing development.

In its stead, Two Realms focuses on the concept of stickers. These stickers can be bought in shops alongside new templates for your hero using the coins you collect. There are two types of stickers. The first type of stickers can be used with your hero. These stickers include masks, backpacks, jetpacks, boxing gloves etc. Some easy to implement ‘upgrades’ the look of your hero. While some of the stickers do look really cool and I feel kids will like them very much they end up being superficial. It’s there for looks only and if you’re not interested in them, you basically have nothing to use all of you hard-earned coins for.

What all these puzzle-platform levels suffer from is that not all of them are well designed, can be overly long and frustrating, have frequent problems with hit detection and above all else overstay their welcome. Doing three of four-story related and then a challenge level or two after is nice, but that’s really how far you can stretch these levels in one sitting. This leads me into the final problem of the game: its stall tactics. The game feels more like very much like a mobile title and that’s not a good thing, at least to me. There are no microtransactions or such in the game, you pay 10,- for the whole package and that’s it, but you can clearly see where such things would have gone. Microtransactions would have gone to the sticker and the walking speed of the hero is painfully slow.

Here's a screencap of a level for your, so you can get a better idea of what I'm talking about.

I’ve been pointing out Two Realms shortcomings a lot in this review (there are a lot of them) but I do want to finish this review in a more positive way. There are still two things to talk about and they are without a doubt the game’s two biggest bright spots. The graphic and the soundtrack. The pixel art of the game is outright beautiful. All characters have multiple frames of animation to make their movement feel as smooth as possible. They also have quite a few expressions and emotions that make them emote successfully and feel much more alive. The sections that aren’t pixel art, primarily the enemies, look good as well. Kind of reminds me of Paper Mario actually with their thick white outline and that’s really not a bad thing at all.

The soundtrack is beautiful as well. It’s the same style of tracks of the original. While the remixed tracks here aren’t as ‘catchy’ as those of the original, they are still very good and is quite relaxing. So yeah, the game looks and sound outright beautiful.

Conclusion

So, what’s the verdict on Drawn to Life: Two Realms? Well, just like I said in the opening this game is a mixed bag. I think the best way to describe my feelings toward this game is this: while I’m happy I played and finished it, I don’t really feel like ever playing it again. I had fun with it. There were some fun moments, some neat ideas and there is a lot of potential that a sequel could take advantage of However, there are just too many problems, too many frustrations, for me to play this game again any time soon.

Would I recommend Two Realms to anyone? If you’re either a fan of the series, interested in what Two Realms has to offer or have a kid who might enjoy it, then I would consider buying it. Considering the game is only 10,- it’s pretty easy to just pick the game up and see what’s it’s about and put the game down if you don’t like it. Just be aware of all of the game’s problems and that it could easily end in frustration and disappointment. 

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