Extensive character customisation seems to be all the rage these days, as developers look for more immersive ways for gamers to interact with their products.
In the early days, simply choosing a pre-set character - assuming you had a choice - was regarded as advanced. Even if you didn't always get the one you wanted (red Valkyrie needs health!) you still had a feeling that the path ahead in the game was initially shaped by choices you got to make yourself. Your affinity with your character carried over to the way you played the game, and even when the title itself was largely rubbish you couldn't help but feel empathy for the collection of pixels you'd partially shaped yourself.
Developers Planet Moon Studios (remember Giants: Citizen Kabuto?) have taken this to the logical limit with Drawn to Life, as you're actually provided with the ability to draw your own likeness from scratch, and use that creation as the lead character in the story. Admittedly, and to bring this concept back down to earth slightly, this title is largely inspired by the DS Drawn to Life series, and as it's moved over to the Wii we're not exactly talking photo-realistic imaging here, but it's a nice touch.
At its heart, Drawn to Life is a platformer. The basic concept is to use the environment as a kind of easel, whilst you negotiate various puzzles by drawing your way out of them. Rolf Harris would be proud. As it turns out, the story behind the game is remarkably comprehensive, especially given the target audience. The basic premise is to guide your character across levels in order to find the mysterious "Artifacts of Power" and rid your home village of an evil shadowy figure that has taken over. There's also a bunch of lore involving shopkeepers, ineffective mayors, secret doors, backwater towns and irrational villagers, however it'd be unfair to reveal Auckland's supercity plans before they're formally announced.
Navigation is made simple by the Wii remote and nunchuck, and in many respects you could be forgiven for assuming initially that the entire game consists of leaping about from hill to cloud whilst picking up gold coins. After all, it's a Nintendo. What is different however is that various environmental objects can be crafted as you come across them. Initially they'll appear as black boxes, almost as if the game is still under development and someone hasn't finished working on the appropriate item yet. By moving closer and accepting a prompt, you can actually draw the object yourself, which is then populated to the world.
We've been told there are over 100 unique items throughout the finished game, however as the code we played was pretty early, our options were limited to the likes of flowers, lift platforms and objects such as bees swarming around their nests.
The puzzles themselves rely on physics-based solutions. You may need to bridge a gap that you otherwise can't double-jump over, and in order to do this you'll need to think outside the square. Or, as it happens, in the square that is helpfully drawn on the screen. By selecting this square and using the Wii remote as a kind of wand, you can draw solid objects that are then dropped into the environment to assist you to get to the other side, providing your paint doesn't run out. Another puzzle we witnessed involved avoiding a large ape by drawing a boulder to knock him out of the way. Each item, once created, can also be destroyed at your own request should it fail to perform the task intended.
You'll also come across various critters that will attempt to hinder your progress through the game, such as bats, worms, and the aforementioned ape, many of which can be punched or jumped on to remove the imminent danger.
Drawn to Life for the Wii looks to stretch the possibilities of the previously DS-only franchise, and move it on to the big screen, so the entire family can join in. Although we didn't get to see it, it will ship with a multiplayer mode where you'll be able to draw your team members and equipment to compete against others in minigames such as soccer, hockey and basketball, so we're looking forward to viewing the progress in this area prior to the expected October launch.
As a Wii owner, there's going to be a bunch of titles vying for your attention over the next three or four months, however it's unlikely many will have this kind of mix of creativity tied up with action platforming - the latter being all but compulsory in order to hold the attention of younger gamers. We'll be watching this one closely.