Drawn to Life: Two Realms
Developer: Digital Continue
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 7/12/20
A code was provided for review purposes.
Welcome Back, Creator!
The Drawn to Life games stand out for me when I think of my time with the original Nintendo DS. The first title, originally developed by 5th Cell, came out in 2007 whilst its sequel, The Next Chapter, released in 2009. There was even a spin-off in 2008, Drawn to Life: Spongebob Squarepants Edition! A criminally underrated series, you are the Creator, looked up to by a species named the Raposa. Using the DS touch screen and your stylus to draw, you could create your own hero and items such as platforms and signs within the game. As someone who has always loved drawing, it was innovative to see my creations come to life in game!
Adventure platformers with intricate lore and surprisingly dark elements, the series has been untouched for over ten years. Fans were eager after the second game (which actually has two endings, after the original was considered not suitable for the age rating) to find out what happened to Mike, Mari and Jowee alongside our other Raposa friends.
I was delighted when Drawn to Life: Two Realms was officially announced in November. With it being such a long time since the DS games, I’d actually forgotten about this lost gem. Memories came flooding back and I just had to take the chance to review this sequel. A particular selling point is that it involves many of the original developers, the composer, the sprite artist and the Executive Producer. But was a decade’s wait worth it for us fans, and does it stay true to what we love about the series?
The Two Realms
As you might expect from the title, you will be travelling between two worlds; the Raposa Realm, and the Human Realm. Neither are meant to be able to cross into the other. However, Mike is the first person to exist in the Raposa Realm as seen in The Next Chapter. After an accident leaves him in a coma, he is returned to the Human Realm. Two Realms picks up a couple of years after that in a continuation of the story.
But Mike’s safety in the human world is short-lived, as Mari discovers that our enemy, the Shadow, threatens the realm. Asking for the help of the Creator (that’s us!), we design a Hero with the ability to travel between the two realms via the Book of Life. This also allows Mike to travel alongside the Hero, and together they need to save Mike’s friends in the Human Realm! Not only that, a mysterious hooded figure in Rapoville seems up to no good.
This story honestly bounced so well off the back of the previous two games. It had the exact same feel, with the dark and unsettling elements that you would not expect woven into a tale with plot twists and lightheartedness! I do think however, that it is best to have played the DS titles beforehand, otherwise you won’t understand the references to Mike’s accident or previous events. Having played them myself with fond memories, I was much more attached to the characters and story. I’m not sure it will have the same effect with someone new to the series.
Let Loose Your Inner Artist
The creation element in Two Realms remains similar, with some new extras. The majority of my creations on the DS were absolute nightmare fuel, however the template tool helps you create something a little more professional. In a pixel style grid, you can either draw whatever you like using your mouse, or load a ready made template for you to customise.
The inclusion of stickers and stamps allows you to decorate your masterpieces further. These can be found hidden in the realms, or bought in shops alongside templates. There are lots of other handy tools, such as the fill button, the undo and redo, and changing brush size. Having drawn pixel art myself, I didn’t have any problems using the mouse; it felt smooth and responsive.
Your Hero isn’t the only thing you can create though! If you talk to an NPC with a pencil above their heads, you can design an object for them, such as a slide or a statue. It still fills me with the same joy as it did all those years ago seeing my little creations appear in game! I did feel there was a lack of creating items to go in the actual levels, which leads me to the gameplay.
In the original games, you would play through different themed worlds in a side scroller fashion, similar to Super Mario Bros. This involved fighting past enemies such as the iconic Baki (who are way too adorable to be squished) and avoiding hazards in classic platformer style. You could create your own weapons, platforms, and more, save Raposa, then encounter a boss at the end. However, Drawn to Life: Two Realms has a different take.
Instead of the fairly lengthy levels, this title focuses on shorter and smaller stages. Usually, you take on a couple in a row to complete the task whether that be a story mission or a side mission. You can pretty much see the entire stage by scrolling out a little with your mouse. There is more of a focus on puzzles, working out how to reach the glowing purple exit at the other side of the stage.
There are various types of goals to these stages. These include having to defeat all the enemies in the level, leading Baki into a pen or simply reaching the exit. You will often have the option to build and place ‘toys’, working out where is best to place the different ability ‘toys’ to reach the goal.
The stages are meant to be the Hero infiltrating the mind of people to convince them to do something or take them down. This felt a little odd to me particularly as this format wasn’t in the original games. I did like the stages themselves; some were easier than others, and some really got me scratching my head! It got your mind whirring particularly when placing ‘toys’, experimenting to find out what was the best placement.
Personally though, I was disappointed in the lack of drawing in these stages. I also much preferred having longer levels like the DS games, so it didn’t quite feel like the same experience. It may be something that others prefer however. With Two Realms also being released on Mobile and Switch, the shorter stages are good to pick up and play in bursts.
A redeeming feature was the movement of the Hero feeling very much like I remember. The goofy way your gangly Hero walks is present, along with moves such as spin, ground pound and picking up objects. These controls are easy to pick up particularly as they’re found in many platformers. I liked the new feature of the worlds going through Night and Day too, with unique challenges from each time.
What really shines in Drawn to Life: Two Realms is the visuals. The sprites and pixel art of the world are spot on, and I’m so glad the original artist got to do this. It really took me back, wandering through Rapoville and recognising buildings or characters. The Raposa themselves are just such a unique design, and the way they’re animated to bob up and down is charming! I like having the sound of the dialogue too, giving it a retro feel.
The difference in quality however is noticable from the jump from DS to PC. Everything is so clear and vibrant, with incredible detail. The different colour palettes and themes between stages meant it wasn’t repetitive. I was a little worried this would be the case as the objectives were fairly similar. Having to explore the realms with cutscenes, and then having the stages, made the gameplay varied though.
An Original Soundtrack
The Drawn to life soundtrack is so good that I was unsure Two Realms would live up to it. I’m actually listening to it while I write, and the nostalgia element does make me prefer it. But the new and original soundtrack definitely has the same vibe to it, with the original composer bringing us 50 new tracks.
It’s hard to describe, but it’s a mixture of instrumentals, chiptune and synth mashed into one. It’s head-bopping, funky and catchy, while also conveying emotion in the tense moments. I actually found myself with certain tunes stuck in my head, but they weren’t annoying in the slightest. You could hear hints of old tracks within them too, which gave me a rush of happiness!
Returning to Rapoville
For a game that is fairly cheap, there’s a surprising amount of content to keep you coming back. You need a certain amount of stars to progress in the game, which involves doing side missions to earn them. The more damage you do and the quicker you do it, the higher the number of stars I believe. This means replaying stages to get the best score, while also collecting all the coins within them.
Then, spend your hard-earned cash on templates and stickers to fully customise your creations. You can even buy more toys to use in levels. If you’re a completionist, there’s plenty to collect! The Steam version comes with 20 achievements to unlock too.
A Fan Favourite?
Overall, Draw to Life: Two Realms includes key elements from the series that fans love. The visuals combined with the soundtrack ooze with nostalgia, and the continuation of the story is what we wanted. It looks and plays great on PC too, seeing our Raposa friends in all their glory.
However, I think the new gameplay style of mind control stages wasn’t quite right. Though the price is a giveaway that this wasn’t going to be as extensive as previous games, the shorter stages don’t capture the same feeling. If the longer levels and worlds of the DS titles were included, my rating would shoot up.
But the small stages and lack of drawing within them felt more like a mobile game. They were fun and a good challenge, but not quite the same. It’s definitely worth noting so that if you’re a fan like me, you aren’t expecting the exact experience. Regardless, I’m excited to continue playing!
Two Realms is one for fans of the series eager to spend more time in the Drawn to Life world. Though the gameplay and unique style may be enticing to new players, it may be hard to grasp the story. Without that previous love, there won’t be an attachment to engage with the characters. That isn’t to say new players won’t enjoy it or should avoid it. At the least, a recap is in order just to get you up to speed!