Though it’s been more than a decade since the previous game, Drawn to Life: Two Realms continues a series that was an interesting part of the DS library. It further develops the story and introduces new gameplay systems blending adventure game elements with puzzle platformer segments rather than action-focused ones. With both the Raposa and human worlds in danger, it’s up to the hero to find a way to identify and solve the big problem this time.
Following the events of Drawn to Life: Next Chapter, Mike is back to the human world. However, the Raposa world is now facing a new crisis. Because of that, mayor Mari asks the Creator for the Hero to come back to help them fix their dilemma.
The Hero is the playable character that you can customize with the game’s creation tool. This allows you to draw how you want it to look or use a variety of pre-built assets. It’s possible to mix and match parts of existing character templates to create something you think looks cool or funny. So don’t feel like you have to stick with a basic ninja, skeleton, alien, or dragon.
The character tools are straightforward and offer a ton of options, with various colors, sizes of pencils, a paint tool to cover areas faster, and the ability to undo/redo and save your custom builds. However, you don’t actually need to worry about that stuff if you don’t want to. The base parts available are good enough to begin your adventure, and there are even stickers you can cover your character with, like anime eyes, a cook hat, gloves, boots, and other assets you can get playing side quests.
Drawn to Life: Two Realms is all about doing time-limited puzzle-platforming challenges created from NPCs’ minds. The player can dive into these characters using the Book of Imagination. These consist of three different goals: just getting to the end gate, destroying all enemies, or having a specific enemy/NPC reach an area. Most of the levels follow the first pattern, but the complexity lies in their mechanisms.
The actual gameplay has players use all enemy toys as clever ways to traverse the area. Some of the ideas you’ll have to learn by playing through the game, such as jumping on an enemy to reach a higher platform or be intentionally noticed, so enemies rush you and fall on a switch or make a missile launcher destroy a bothersome foe.
However, the difficulty of understanding just what’s needed can vary wildly. Sometimes it’ll feel like it’s impossible to complete the task. However, this contrasts with late puzzle design as more toys are gradually added to the game. The areas “difficulty” can be really inconsistent, forcing the player to either grasp some advanced stuff or find a cheap way out of the hard part. Some levels felt more like I was breaking the rules or using glitches than actually solving the problem.
The worst part is that story beats offer multiple stages that need to be done one after the other. That way, if the player gets stuck on area 2 or 3 and gives up on it, they’re forced to do all stages over. Worse still is the fact there’s no story skip button, and the cutscenes can feel like a chore while you’re going through them again.
On the other hand, the sidequests can be way too easy, and the main objective of getting the best score is a matter of having the right toys. You can either spend some money on them or give up so a new batch can show up. Usually, having the enemy that shoots missiles ensures a high score, which will net you the big prize. Don’t get too excited; most of the time, it’s a sticker.
Those areas and a few of the main story sections revolve around the player picking the toys’ placements. In a way, it’ll test if you actually learned how to use them to reach the main goal and can find a proper solution for the puzzle based on your previous experiences. That works well for the main story, but likely because the toys are randomly generated for the sidequests, their individual abilities aren’t actually of great importance except for the missile exploit.
Between puzzles, Drawn to Life: Two Realms features an adventure aspect. You can explore both worlds, talk to NPCs, get coins and items, do sidequests, color some objects for the townsfolk, or shop in the store. The game follows a day and night cycle, changing the characters’ positions, but nothing particularly interesting uses that system. There are also a few fruits spread around that will speed you up when eaten.
The game is interesting in the story aspect, but some of the more significant plot points just don’t quite work without the previous games’ knowledge. There are a few story-dumping cutscenes so you can learn about them, but some things will just fly over your head if you don’t really know who Mike is, the connection between the worlds, or why the identity of the cloaked guy is important.
It also offers multiple interpretations if you don’t take some of its plot points as literal events and metaphors. After all, it’s all connected to a previous big event that is the start point of the story if we think of the chronology. There’s even room for a sequel, which could further develop the story and the new systems to add balance to the gameplay.
I’d also like to mention how good the art is. The pixel art is simple but really nice, and the art pieces used in some cutscenes evoke the feeling of a storybook for children, which really fits the concept of the game. Darker layers of story interpretation are an important part of the old tales as well, after all. The soundtrack by the same composer of previous games also fits, though I can’t say any of the tracks were particularly memorable.
Drawn to Life: Two Realms could have been a little more. The concept of making it into a puzzle platformer is interesting, but the challenges can go from a walk in the park to asking for advanced comprehension in an instant. Further, some small quality-of-life issues make progress feel slow and slightly cumbersome. Nonetheless, it can offer a good deal of fun for fans of the genre and people who have been dying to see the characters again.
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