Drawn: The Painted Tower

Posted by Jess Beebe.
First posted on 10 September 2010. Last updated on 19 November 2011.
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Drawn: The Painted Tower
Iris' red scarf lies on the tower steps.
Drawn: The Painted Tower
A magical painting hangs on a wall in the tower's lower level.
Drawn: The Painted Tower
The secret to save Iris lies within the magical painting.
Drawn: The Painted Tower
The bell tower looks strangely incomplete.
Drawn: The Painted Tower
The dark, ominous hall appears to be abandoned.

Over the past several years, computer generated 3D graphics have replaced hand drawn 2D images as a visual art form almost entirely. Today, very few animated movies from major studios are made with traditional animation, and computer games from commercial developers created with 2D sprites and backgrounds are almost extinct. Still, there are many independent games being made with 2D graphics, but few are good enough to challenge the incredibly detailed 3D graphics of higher budgeted titles.

This is why it is truly refreshing to find a game like Drawn: The Painted Tower, an adventure game made almost entirely with hand drawn digital artwork. Though the graphics in more contemporary adventure games are truly remarkable, I feel that there is "something" in hand drawn 2D art that 3D graphics will never be able to fully capture. I cannot adequately describe what that "something" is, but I can definitely feel it when I play Drawn: The Painted Tower.

This game takes you on a surreal journey through a tall tower full of magical paintings that you can step into, where reality can be changed merely by tracing the outline of a shape or by using a drawing on a particular object. Your mission is made clear at the onset of the game: you must find your way to the top of the tower to rescue Iris, a young girl who possesses a rare and remarkable ability, and whose life is in danger because of it.

It is truly the remarkable art of this game that is its main focus. Every scene is hand drawn and deeply atmospheric, and there are often subtle animations that truly breathe life into the scenes, such as dust motes dancing in a beam of light or water dripping from the ceiling. Since the game is played from a first-person perspective, it draws you in even more, giving you the feeling that you are really there. You can almost feel the cold walls of the tower and the cold, rain dampened wind blowing in through the open windows.

The characters in the game appear to be 3D, but they are integrated so well into the game that they do not look at all out of place against the 2D backgrounds. There are also many motifs that appear repeatedly during the game, such as Iris's red scarf and silver stars hanging from thin cords that make every scene in the game seem interconnected.

There are many puzzles in the game, though many of them are not of the kind normally associated with adventure games. Rather, they are literal puzzles, such as assembling differently shaped polygons to form a shape, swapping the positions of a set of scrambled tiles to form a picture, and rotating dials with numbers printed on sections of them so that the sum of numbers each dial is the same. However, there is a "Skip Puzzle" option that becomes active when you have grappled with a puzzle for a couple of minutes, which is a welcome feature for gamers who may have difficulty with these brainteasers.

Other puzzles are more typical for adventure games, such as using a rusty gear to complete a mechanism inside a clock tower and then finding some oil to use on it. Although many of these puzzles tend to follow a generic formula of "Give Item 1 to Person A to receive Item 2, which is used to retrieve Item 3", there is still enough variety in the various scenarios to keep the gameplay from becoming overly repetitive.

Though the game is laden with puzzles, you will never lose sight of the plot. The curse placed on the tower makes itself known many times, reminding you of the urgency of the situation and how the curse will stop at nothing to prevent you from rescuing Iris. For example, when you attempt to ascend a flight of stairs suspended high in the air, the tower's massive bell will fall, completely destroying the stairs, forcing you to find another way to get to the next level of the tower.

As you play the game, you also learn a lot about Iris in the form of letters, books, and pictures scattered around the various rooms of the tower. There are several cut scenes where Franklin, Iris' guardian, tells you about Iris as well. He also reminds you of your mission, encouraging you but at the same time warning you to be cautious.

Though there is much dialog in the game, the voice acting is minimal, present only in cut scenes. The rest of the dialog appears in text boxes, and sometimes certain words will be written in a different color, often to provide you a hint as to what to do next. I have not found this addition entirely helpful, but it may be beneficial to novice players new to adventure games.

The game's music is just as rich as its artwork. It helps to give the already vivid scenes in the game even more life, and it often has an ethereal, sad quality to it that reflects the dark, cursed state of the tower beautifully.

The game's interface is simple: your inventory is always present at the bottom of the screen, and there is only a single cursor used to examine objects, pick up items, and talk to other characters. When your cursor is over an object that can be examined more closely, it will become a magnifying glass, and when it is over a person or creature with whom you can converse, it will become a speech bubble. Though the game does not indicate when your cursor is over a hotspot, tiny sparkles will appear over an important hotspot to point it out to you. However, when these sparkles do not indicate an object, that object can be very difficult to find because of the immense detail and complexity in each scene. (I only got stuck twice in this game, and the second time was when I was looking for a stick or a mallet to strike a series of gongs with. After much searching, I discovered that a mallet was hanging right next to one of the gongs, but it was so well camouflaged that I could barely make it out.)

The game helps you by writing down the names of your objectives on a small chalkboard in the lower left corner. These names are sometimes pretty straightforward, like "Find Scarecrow's Eyes", but are often much more subtle and rife with wordplay, like "Have a Heart".

There is also a hint system built into the game in case you get stuck, which reveals hints about how to accomplish a certain objective a step at a time. The design of this system is somewhat lacking, however, as it does not always recognize what you have solved on your own already. (I tried using it once, and it only gave me hints to a puzzle I had already completed.)

The save system is a bit awkward as well. You cannot save your game; instead, you have to designate multiple players. In other words, once you have gotten past a certain point as a particular player, the only way to replay that portion of the game is to start a new game as a different player and play through until up to that point.

Despite these relatively minor flaws, however, Drawn: The Painted Tower is a truly beautiful game. The graphics and music are remarkable, and as minimal as the plot is, there is still enough of it to keep any player interested in it. Though expert gamers may easily finish this game in under an hour, it is still worth playing for both novice and seasoned adventure fans. The game's ending is rather ambiguous, but with the journey to it being as memorable as it is, it is unlikely that any gamer will be disappointed by this wonderful little game.

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