Review | Drawn: The Painted Tower
Format: PC | Genre: Adventure (casual) | Publisher: Big Fish | Developer: Big Fish | Release date: 03/09/09 | RRP: $6.99
In a dismal fantasy world, the King’s daughter is missing.
Posters are plastered around town, offering handsome rewards to anyone who can guarantee her safe return. Held captive at the top of a vast tower, the girl sends a help message out into the wind. You find it, and through the trapped girl’s gift to make her drawings come to life, you set about to carve a path up the dark, twisting tower, unlocking each of its secrets and making your way to her rescue.
This is a curious game. It’s a short, casually oriented point-and-click adventure that falls into a number of typical genre pitfalls. The story is as tired as you’ll get. The hints system, while nice in theory, is seriously flawed. The dialogue and voice acting are preposterous, the puzzles are frequently too abstract, and the whole game is drenched in a chunky low-budget sauce. It has no right to work.
So it threw me a bit that the other day, when I finished playing it, my immediate reaction was to start up a new game. It’s completely linear – you can go into the next room, or you can backtrack to an old one, and that’s about it – so there’s no urge to try out new ideas or play differently. There are no added bonuses to be gained from having completed the game. And… okay, there’s an obvious reason why I may have felt compelled to return: it’s four hours long, and the ending’s a little problematic. There’s no crescendo, no exponentially rising sense of urgency as you fight your way to the very top of this magical tower. So maybe I was just disappointed, and now, half way through my second attempt, am scraping the barrel and hoping to milk it for all that’s there. But I don’t think so. There’s something else.
It’s something less concrete that makes Drawn, initially an unassuming game, strangely engrossing. This is a tactile yet cerebral adventure, a mix of traditional and more abstract adventuring. There are inventory puzzles, which mostly work well, aside from a few huge backtracks in the name of repeated pixel-hunting. And there are mini-game puzzles – Myst-like, experimental tests, where working out what you’re supposed to be doing forms most of the challenge. But it’s Drawn’s strong sense of identity that helps it stand out. Each environment is stunningly hand-painted, often teeming with an unusual amount of life. It’s largely static, with some dynamic effects layered over the top, but it’s a solid image that’s maintained throughout the game. Holding it all together is a beautiful, evocative soundtrack, swelling and rising with each new discovery.
It’s all rather striking, despite the frequent mundanity of the gameplay. Drawn is very much targeted at the casual audience, and makes no attempt to forward the genre in any meaningful way. You’ll do a lot of clicking, a lot of hands-on puzzling and a lot of hunting for, combining and using objects, all in a mostly satisfying yet clearly uninspiring manner. The mini-game puzzles, oddly, can be skipped if you’re having too much difficulty, which will mean less patient players could see Drawn to its conclusion in a fraction of its already short lifespan. And a hints system, nice enough in theory, fails to impress. There are almost always three hints available for each puzzle, with the next one becoming available after a fairly lengthy ‘recharging’ period. Yet it fails to adapt to your actions. In some of the more complex puzzles, it’s common to have completed almost everything that’s required, yet still have to wait for the first two hints to prod you in the direction of something you’ve already done. When you’re hopelessly stuck, even more waiting around isn’t exactly desirable.
Still, the vivid world holds it all together with aplomb. For all its conceptual weakness, even the story manages to charm effortlessly, and saving this helpless little girl becomes the only thing on your mind. There’s very little cut-scene exposition, too – aside from a few major plot points, many of the details are filled in through collectable notes left scattered around the world. Drawn understands how to cement a sense of place, no matter how unimaginitive its origins.
For most games, being only a few hours long would be a serious blow. But at under $7, it could be a no-brainer for certain audiences. While Drawn is unlikely to leave a lasting impact on the genre’s landscape, it does make an immediate impact on the player, with a world that inspires despite the predictable mechanics contained within it. Considering the mega-budget price, it’s certainly worth a look.
You can purchase Drawn: The Painted Tower from the Big Fish website. You’ll have to download their client, but it’s perfectly innocent and runs happily in the background.