After I previewed Drawn to Life: Two Realms, I was excited to continue the calming, charming, and slightly nostalgic worlds that the game had to offer. In fact, I noted that if the game was able to keep up the methodical introduction of player freedom and puzzle elements I experienced in the first hour, it could be a really great puzzle platformer. Sadly, it didn’t.
Drawn to Life: To Realms is a puzzle platformer that just doesn’t evolve with the mechanics it introduces. While all the mechanics interact with each other in interesting ways, the game doesn’t give the player enough freedom to actually experiment. Most puzzles feel like they only have one or two correct solutions.
I was originally excited to jump into a franchise that evaded me for whatever reason when it first launched back on the DS. Especially since I really loved Scribblenauts. Sadly, it’s hard to believe that Two Realms comes from the same studio that executed both Drawn to Life and Scribblenauts so well.
The name Two Realms is, while representative of the two different worlds you find yourself going to, ironic. It represents a disparity between its gameplay and just about everything else in the game. The gameplay is tangentially interesting but was never enough to keep me totally engaged.
The platforming segments were divided between three different types of levels. The first is just a standard ‘get-to-the end-of-the-level’ format. Generally, these serve as a means of introducing the player to whatever new mechanics the game wants you to use. These sections also allow the game a way to introduce or at least recontextualize mechanics for use in later levels.
Next, the second kind of level the game introduces is a ‘kill-all-the-enemies’ style. These are easily the least interesting level variant, but only because it doesn’t do anything new. Instead, it requires some understanding of the more puzzle-like elements introduced in the first level type but never does anything to evolve it.
Finally, the third level type is a sort of combination of the other levels that requires an understanding of the game’s mechanics but in a really interesting and (sometimes) slightly challenging way. It starts with a Mario Maker-style grid and a few elements that you’re required to place throughout the level; these will, in turn, help you complete the level.
The problem here is that every level where the player chooses how a stage should be laid out is anemic. Basic level layouts and limited choice dictated a majority of the levels where I had a chance to edit the courses. Even just a little more freedom in its options would give the game a serious shot in the arm.
Gameplay aside, however, Drawn To Life: Two Realms is a treat to look at and just experience. Its expertly-crafted pixel art and spritework remind me of the GBA and DS-era when some games just couldn’t work and wouldn’t look good in 3D. The overworld features vibrant colors and great art. Honestly, I wish the game had a bit more of an opportunity to flex its cozy but incredible art. Instead, Two Realms tends to stay within relatively mundane areas that look almost like Onnett from Earthbound.
The writing and story is almost entirely nonsense, and I mean that in the best and worst ways possible. That’s not to say it really needs to be or say anything, but unless it was tutorial information, the dialogue in the game made no sense. I have a feeling hardcore devotees of the Drawn to Life series (if they exist) will be pleased, but anyone else will be lost.
Sure, there were still a couple of charming moments here and there. They also incorporate some potentially heavy stuff that was handled relatively well for a game geared towards kids. Some of the dialogue sequences between NPCs did genuinely elicit an occasional chuckle, but again, I just felt lost most of the time.
The game follows a highly repetitive and often unrewarding loop that cycles between helping NPCs, listening to them talk about their problems, rinse and repeat. Every once in a while a character will have a run-in with the game’s antagonists, which often provide a bit more of a boss-like experience. These encounters still adopted the same format as the rest of the platforming levels. However, they tend to not only provide more of a challenge but feel more freeing.
The push and pull between approachability and freedom is what makes Drawn to Life: Two Realms so conflicting It’s clear that the game is meant to be more approachable for newcomers with little to no experience in the puzzle-platformer genre. For anyone with experience in the genre, though, there’s not much to be gained from giving it a shot.
That said, it accomplishes what it sets out to really well. This is a great game for players who might be lapsed, more casual gamers, or kids. Don’t let that scare you away, though. If you have any sense of nostalgia for the DS era of 5th Cell games like the original Drawn To Life games or Scribblenauts, you’ll find a warm fuzzy feeling buried in this game and its great art. Unfortunately, most of the gameplay is as shallow as it is unrewarding, with any real challenge being limited by an overall sense of restriction.