A tattered crimson cloth soars high above ominous stony environs. You watch as it floats through ruins and settles at the bottom of a tumbled-down cavern. You pick it up, and its message asks you to explore the magical world of Stonebriar, the whimsically gothic setting for Drawn: Dark Flight, a new casual adventure by Big Fish Games. Such a darkly fanciful opening drew me directly into the story, and the magic continued to unveil itself as I discovered more of this world through creative art design, well-integrated puzzles, and a soaring orchestral soundtrack. While the rather sporadic plot details may be difficult to follow for those who haven’t played the first game, there is more than enough fun to draw everyone into a memorable experience filled with art, music, and wonder.
In this second installment of the Drawn series, you start by searching for Iris, the royal family’s missing daughter. She is imbued with the power to create real worlds simply by drawing or painting them. Together with Iris, you will endeavor to light Stonebriar’s three beacons, a stay against shadows and darkness led by the evil king who wreaked such havoc at the conclusion of Drawn: The Painted Tower. As hinted at by the game’s title, this is a land whose art and creativity has recently been doused. You must use your own creativity in completing unfinished sketches and artwork, as well as your intellect in solving puzzles, lighting the beacons and saving the kingdom.
Even before you enter Stonebriar proper, the first thing you will notice is the beautifully rendered 2D artwork. Drawn revels in its technical simplicity, taking it to a new stylistic level. The game is largely about exploring paintings, sketches, and books, so the developers have played around with art that amusingly subverts the 2D world. Building on the concept first introduced in Painted Tower, you’ll interact with more than just paintings hanging on a wall this time. Pages in a popup book spring up in three dimensions complete with tabs for you to pull and slide; cutouts on a felt board come to life as you put the pieces in their proper places; and a character in a theater poster peels himself off of the wall and floats down to the street beside you.
Dark Flight mixes several art styles in rendering this world of imagination. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a Disney wonderland as you wander through a meadow with hopping bunnies and frolicking squirrels to talk to a grouchy gnome, while the lines of a child’s first book render a simple scene with a pirate on a paper boat amidst peaked paper waves. The main characters – Iris, the evil king, and Franklin, who serves as your narrating guide through the game – are drawn in a more realistic style. Their fully fleshed out features include Iris’ windswept dark hair and piercing blue eyes, the evil king’s dark beetling brows and red glowing embers for eyes, and Franklin’s craggy bald head with tiny spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his nose. The color palette, which is used consistently throughout the game, serves to tie together these sometimes disparate styles. The majority of the art is awash in dusty turquoise, deep indigos, lavenders, and every shade of grey. This dark foundation provides a perfect backdrop for splashes of color: streams of multicolored light shining from an undersea helmet, the red splash of a phoenix painting the night sky in flight, or a single jewel-toned hummingbird feeder swinging against a washed-out cottage.
The in-game animations are equally terrific. The world comes alive as you solve puzzles and explore: Lines of fire burn up the outline of a door opening; shadows made of hundreds of ravens smoke through an alleyway; a flock of books take flight out of a recently opened library door. The camera angles in the game also lend a feeling of degraded grandness, a certain faded majesty, to the game. You’ll enter a cavern staring up at a monumental stone door carved with the likeness of a dragon. The door reaches up to the heavens, with ravens flying around the top, tiny dark specks flying in slow circles. As you head up a vast staircase leading to one of the beacons, you’ll gaze out into the sky and across the rooftops of an eerily silent Stonebriar. And everywhere about you are reminders of better days gone by: giant stone lions’ heads peer at you sightlessly from the floor and a huge bell sits amidst crushed rock in a cavern. But within these grand (if ravaged) views, the designers have done a fantastic job of keeping actions you complete in one scene continuous with what you see happening as you move into another. A kite in one area of town flies high overhead, and when you move to another street, you can see the same kite flying over the rooftops casting a shadow on a building wall, and creatures floating down the river in a painting follow in your wake as you step out of the painting and back into a main room.
Adding to this impressive aesthetic is the wonderful sound. The eloquent orchestral soundtrack will stay with you long after you finish playing. Violins take flight with cellos that dip and swoop against the steady beat of tympanis in the background, the mood ever-changing depending on the scene you’re in. You’ll hear a breezy nautical theme in a pirate painting, and a soothing pastoral tune heavy on the harp and clarinet in a cheerful springtime scene. There is even a musical puzzle that emphasizes the game’s theme music, though it doesn’t require any musical knowledge or even a good ear, relying more on recognizing patterns than anything else. The ambient sounds, like gas lamps that creak when you click on them and rain pounding as you wander around in a storm, are less notable than the music but do add appropriate depth to the soundtrack. The voice acting is serviceable, and mostly appears at key transition points in the game, as dialogue remains text-only for your personal observations and interactions with some of the minor characters you meet.
The fantastic sights and sounds did a lot to get me through some of the more difficult puzzle sequences. There are a variety of puzzles in Drawn, and the majority of them are fairly straightforward inventory puzzles. As you investigate each screen, you’ll find inventory objects that may need to be used in that scene or in one of the many painting (or painting-within-a-painting) puzzles that appear throughout the game. This layering of scenes not only adds a level of difficulty, as you try to determine where an object will be used, it also adds depth to the exploration, giving your adventure a more cohesive, less linear feel. While you won’t need to go back to completed areas to hunt for objects, new locations have enough scenes to investigate that the times you have to travel back and forth through the entire town for a single action made me wish that the game had provided a quick travel map. Especially with all of the scenes within scenes, trying to figure out where exactly you first saw something becomes increasingly difficult the further you progress into the game, and access to a couple of required areas isn’t properly indicated, adding to the confusion.Continued on the next page...