Drawn to Life: Spongebob Squarepants Edition
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-10-04 Nintendo DS Action/Platform E10 (Everyone 10+) THQ / 5th Cell

While from the outset, the two worlds of the Drawn to Life video game franchise and the Spongebob Squarepants television series may seem to have little in common, they are in fact a perfect match. During a season two episode of the show entitled "Frankendoodle", Spongebob and Patrick, his starfish friend, come across a magical pencil that brings anything it draws to life. In true comedic fashion, after drawing a simple copy of himself, Spongebob and the rest of Bikini Bottom become terrorized by the evil "Doodlebob" until Spongebob traps the runaway doodle on a piece of paper.

Doodlebob makes his return in Drawn to Life: Spongebob Squarepants Edition when a second magical pencil enters the world of Bikini Bottom, and Patrick, in all of his classic stupidity, draws a second Doodlebob that quickly begins to run amuck. After trapping most of the citizens of Bikini Bottom in cages, and erasing various other items (buildings, machines, etc.) from the world (via the magical pencil's eraser), Spongebob comes up with the idea of drawing a superhero to combat Doodlebob and stop his antics once and for all. This, of course, is where you come in.

At its core, Drawn to Life: SSE plays like classic platformers of yesteryear with one major twist. The game places you in charge of one of the two magical pencils in the world, with said pencil being the most important factor in the game, as, with the help of Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward, you are tasked with not only rescuing the people of Bikini Bottom and defeating Doodlebob, but also with returning the city to its former glory.

Gameplay itself is two-fold and combines the use of the stylus and the D-pad, ABYX buttons. One the one hand, you have over 20 levels of side-scrolling, platforming action, filled with the basics of jumping, collecting coins, and defeating various enemies, both real and doodled. Each level has its own unique theme and objectives, with one of the most common objectives being to rescue the three people hidden in each level and remove the "goo", or scribbled black doodles, along the way.

Since Doodlebob will stop at nothing to make sure your mission is a failure, he has erased many objects throughout each level, which is where your power over the second magical pencil comes in. Throughout gameplay, you'll find yourself drawing clouds, gears, moveable platforms, slingshots, weapons, and more, with the drawing of each item taking place on a very intuitive drawing board.

You can think of the drawing board as a simplified version of Microsoft Paint, with the interface being incredibly intuitive, and filled with dozens of color options, line sizes, and even a helper box to show you exactly where to draw. Depending on your patience or skill level with the stylus, your drawn objects can be as simple or as complex as you'd like, with the only real limit being the scope of your imagination.

Since you'll be drawing so many items within the game, it's nice to know that once you draw your first slingshot, karate glove, and so on, that same design will be automatically placed in their appropriate spots throughout the rest of the game. That's not to say however that the designs are set in stone, as you can go back and change any design (including that of your character itself) at any time.

Aside from the level-based gameplay, there is a second mode that allows for casual exploration of Bikini Bottom proper. While at first only a few homes and the Krusty Krab will be available to enter, you'll soon find yourself drawing in replacement buildings for your newly rescued citizens to live in. Likewise, since no home is complete without furniture and other decorations, you'll be tasked with drawing items like radios, beds, and televisions as well.

Furthermore, the coins you collect throughout the various levels in the game also find a purpose in Bikini Bottom. By travelling to the Krusty Krab, you can use your coins to buy new color palettes for the drawing board, extra lives for your character, and even weapon power-ups (like the aforementioned karate glove) that can be used later on.

As one would expect, as you progress through the title, your enemies become stronger and the hidden citizens in each level become harder to find. Boss fights also occur at set intervals that test your observational skills in terms of the doodled areas of the world, by forcing you to erase certain areas to overpower monsters, or draw platforms in to reach their weak spots.

Eventually, once you reach the last levels of the game, you'll notice that you have obviously drawn in most items within the world, which is when the classic platforming action of the game really starts to shine. Harkening back to games like the original Super Mario Brothers, you'll find yourself scouring every level for hidden areas and treasures along with defeating wacky doodles in an experience that is quite enjoyable and fulfilling.

Other gameplay options come in the form of a two-player battle mode that has you and a friend tackling each other for treasure, and a fun coloring book that lets you simply practice your drawing and coloring skills with the stylus.

With all of this player-to-game interactivity, it's nice to see such a balance inside the game in terms of graphics. The entire world is filled with bright colors and fun, wacky shapes (like tubular coral and seaweed), with everything fitting in perfectly with the look of the television series. However, the preset graphics take a backseat to the front-and-center appearance given to your doodles, making them stand out against the backgrounds in a way that really lets them shine.

If I had to find a negative within the title, it would have to be the sound department. Now, that's not to say that it's horrible, as the various sound effects are very reminiscent of other platformers. It's just that that fact itself is a bit of a double-edged sword, in that the title doesn?t really wow with its soundtrack or sound effects.

With the Spongebob universe being so vibrant and unique, I guess I expected better than the average, semi-tropical elevator music that plays throughout. There's also the disappointing (yet understandable) lack of voice acting within the title to take note of. That being said, the dialogue, although text-based, does do a fine job of conveying the same humor found within the television show, but I can only imagine how much better the game would be with Spongebob's trademark voice blaring through the speakers.

While a prior fan of the Spongebob television series would of course get more out of the title than a complete outsider, the game does a great job of explaining the actual episode that inspired the title, and offers enough background information about the characters to not alienate the unfamiliar. If, however, you find yourself afraid to pick this one up based on the fact that you are unfamiliar with the Spongebob franchise, you can always try the original Drawn to Life to see if this "draw your own game" system works for you. It definitely does for me.

Special thanks to Kristina Kirk and THQ for providing a copy of this title.