Since its release, the iPad has been considered a “casual” gaming device rather than a “hardcore” gaming device. While it is hard to define exactly what a casual game is, a couple of criteria usually emerge. A casual game is typically something that has easy-to-learn gameplay, that does not have a very high level of difficulty, and that a player can pick up and put down easily. By those criteria, Drawn: The Painted Tower HD is a casual game for the iPad, and one of the better games that I’ve played on an iOS device.
Drawn: The Painted Tower HD is a port of the original Drawn: The Painted Tower, a graphic adventure/puzzle game released for the Mac and PC in late 2009. The story begins as the unnamed, unseen player-protagonist arrives at the game’s titular tower. The quest is simple: there is a young girl atop the tower who needs to be rescued before an evil king comes to capture her. The tower is cursed, so the player must solve puzzles in order to reach its top. Iris, the young girl, is sought because she has inherited her family’s magical power to make their drawings come to life.
Once inside the tower, the game plays like a combination between a traditional third-person graphic adventure and a puzzle game. The player navigates in a first-person perspective, gathering inventory items and using them to move from defined screen to defined screen. While the game does not have the free-roaming 3D world of a Myst or the like, the player can move from room to room in the tower at the touch of an arrow. Beyond using inventory items to solve puzzles, there are several stand-alone puzzles that do not require the use of items. In addition, there are a small number of non-player characters to interact with, most of whom are found inside the living paintings that Iris has created.
The first and most important aspect to discuss about this game is its art style. Graphically, this game is quite beautiful, right from the outset. Slightly stylized, Drawn revolves around its lush, detailed visuals. As the whole game centers on the conceit that Iris’ drawings can come alive, the designers gave the entire game an ethereal, oil-painted feel. The colors are rich and full, and lines are drafted with smooth brushstrokes. In this respect, the development team has done a terrific job of infusing the entire game with the central theme of living art.
Though the painted art is quite lovely, the animations and “action” that take place in each scene are less impressive. Where backgrounds and painted scenes are charming, any action or motion that takes place feels choppy and artificial. Action within the frame does not take place all that often, but when it does, it takes the player out of the game. It’s a disappointment, as it is just not up to the high graphical bar set elsewhere. Nevertheless, the painted art style is so good that it overwhelms the overall presentation, making sure that the graphics for this game would score highly on almost anyone’s rating scale.
Gameplay is relaxed and pressure-free, which is certainly ideal when playing a game geared towards casual gamers. The puzzles are straightforward, and there’s good variation, which is nice for someone like myself who’s no puzzle expert. At the same time, these probably are not the most difficult puzzles in the world. I was able to solve most of them without too much effort, and the hint system is fairly robust as well. By clicking on the face of Iris’ trusty stone retainer, players can get three hints to solve the puzzle or get to the next scene.
One of the main issues that holds this game back was slowdown. By my count, there were four points in the game when I experienced medium or long slowdowns. There was one particular puzzle late in the game that focused on a theatre production. At this point, I had such severe slowdown that a scene that should have taken no more than four minutes took close to twenty. Also, the game crashed once, but I didn’t have trouble getting back to where I was going. I do expect better polish from final release games, even on the iOS. Crashes and bugs like these are just unacceptable.
The music is dark, moody, and atmospheric. It certainly fits the haunted, magical tower. While the opening theme has an ominous, choral sound to it and does much to set the mood, as the game goes on, it seems as if sound becomes an afterthought, and never returns to the forefront of the experience. That’s hardly a damning statement for an iOS game, but it was still a small disappointment, as there was definitely room for the sound to be excellent, rather than merely good.
In the end, Drawn: The Painted Tower HD is a fine way to spend a few hours. But in this game, players won’t find the deep, engrossing graphic adventure experience they might find in one of the more well-written games, such as a Maniac Mansion or a Sam & Max adventure. What they will find is a game that is easy to play and reflects a child’s paintings come to life. You could do much worse for a few hours of entertainment and puzzle-solving.
This review was based on the 1.0 version of the game, and was played on a first-generation iPad.