Release Date: September 15, 2008
I'm not really the biggest fan of the Nicktoons-related cashing in that THQ does every year, with the various flavors of SpongeBob SquarePants-, Jimmy Neutron- and Danny Phantom-related DS games, along with a title for just about every other related character. It's far too excessive, especially considering how they all tend to play the same or use the same engine and visuals, only with a slightly different setting.
However, Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants is a far, far different title from the usual offering that holds the SpongeBob license. Instead, this is built upon the excellent Drawn to Life title that released earlier in the year, wherein players create their own character using a set of in-game tools, which took your creation, animated it, and used it throughout the game, combining a pretty solid platforming experience along the way.
The SpongeBob version of this game doesn't really improve on the formula, other than giving players a recognizable license to attach to it, but it's hard to deny that it feels unique compared to other DS platformers on the market, and the idea of being able to draw your own protagonist is super-satisfying.
In this version of Drawn to Life, you don't actually take on the role of SpongeBob. Instead, Patrick has accidentally brought the nefarious DoodleBob back to life, which, if you've seen the cartoon, was a drawn creation that brought havoc to the town of Bikini Bottom. It's basically a bad-tempered, crudely drawn version of SpongeBob, and this time, you've been tasked with drawing your own creation to help stop DoodleBob.
As Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants begins, you're given the tools to do the job, allowing you to draw your creation (within certain parameters) using various colors and features. If you're feeling less than creative, you can always opt to use the available templates that are based on various characters from the show, which you can then trace over to get some semblance of familiarity going. However, it's far more fun to just come up with something on your own, no matter how poorly you're actually able to draw. You can zoom in a few levels, allowing you to create in a pixel-by-pixel format, and you can auto-fill in large spaces with color, or simply draw pixel blocks of color to get more detail out of your creation. There are three different widths to choose from for your "brush," and you can always erase and start over during the creation process.
Once you've created your character, it's time to start the game. It's honestly a simple platformer, and you can jump and bop your way through each stage. The stages are pretty linear but offer a limited amount of exploration, which can net you 100 percent completion if you're looking to see everything that the title has to offer. Enemies can either be taken out or knocked out, and after you've knocked out an enemy, you can transform it into a friendly face — one that you'll need to draw, of course. Along the way, you'll come across other denizens of Bikini Bottom who have been trapped in globs of ink, and there's also graffiti spread around town that you'll need to erase with the stylus. The only thing that's really lacking is any notable boss encounters, which is slightly disappointing. Instead, most stages end by collecting a key and bringing it to the exit, allowing you to finish the stage. The difficulty level isn't too hard, and Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants is definitely a game that's been geared toward younger kids. Your life bar consists of four hearts, but if you die, it doesn't take much to get back to where you were. There's also no permanent death in the game, so you never have to worry about restarting an entire level.
The story line in Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants is fun, but nothing that we haven't seen before in a SpongeBob game. The use of DoodleBob is nice, though, since it obviously fits the theme of the title, and he's one of the funnier villains from the show, so I'm just thankful that they didn't just use Plankton once again. I hope that THQ doesn't try and completely drain the fun out of this series by offering up Drawn to Life versions of every Nicktoons character out there, since there's little in the way of innovation between this title and the main Drawn to Life game.
Visually, I'm impressed with how well your creations carry over into the actual game. The way it seems to work is that the game renders everything you draw within the box provided, but if you leave some of the space alone, that part becomes transparent. If you try to color in the background area of your character, he'll be a bit like a giant block when you use him, so obviously you can make the animation look a little funky if you want, but still, it's a pretty cool gimmick. The game also makes use of the drawing function for things like designing your own house and interior and creating platforms and other objects that you'll need in the different levels.
The level design isn't that fantastic; it's mostly pretty basic and mundane, but it does vary a bit more toward the end of the game, and there are quite a few Bikini Bottom locations represented here, but altogether, it starts to feel a bit too much like the same old stuff over and over again. I would have liked to have seen a little more difficulty introduced, specifically with the platforming in the final levels, so while Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants works, it doesn't really excite me that much.
I definitely enjoyed Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants, and it's probably the best SpongeBob SquarePants game we've seen in the past few years. It makes great use of the license by combining it with the Drawn to Life world in a way that makes complete sense for the story, and the ability to design your character and bits of the surrounding world is an interesting mechanic. Just don't expect to be blown away by the gameplay, and I think you'll get a decent amount of enjoyment out of this one. It'll be a great game if you have an artistically minded kid in the house, since there really isn't much on the market that lets you create your own hero, as Drawn to Life does.
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