Games that have an interesting or unique premise are always going to grab attention in today's expanding market, as they promise an experience unlike the ones that have come before. Draw a Stickman: EPIC is one such game. The player starts the game by drawing their very own stick figure, who then serves as the protagonist of the adventure. While it is immediately adorable and fun to see your stick figure come to life on the blank, introductory page, jauntily moving and jumping from side to side, we couldn't help but feel that the actual drawing mechanic would be better suited to a touch-screen rather than a controller, which is a feeling that lingered with us throughout the game. This is hardly a surprise, given that Draw a Stickman started off life on mobile platforms but in the console version, the use of a controller to draw felt sadly awkward and the initial lack of colours in the drawing palate didn't offer as many customisation choices as we had hoped for. Extra colours can however be unlocked for your stick figure, thus enhancing replayability, but we were still a little bit disappointed by the very small selection at start-up.
Moving on to the story, Stickman (or perhaps Sticklady) is tasked with rescuing his friend - another, even less customisable user-created stick figure - from the evil clutches of a maniacal antagonist with his own magical drawing pencils, who does everything in his wicked power to stop our hero, such as blocking the path forward with an enormous Armakillo - which is one of the impressively drawn, lethally dangerous creatures who appear throughout the game. The stick-hero must navigate through a story book of worlds, using special pencils to draw their way out of traps and solve puzzles. For instance, in one level, the player will have to draw a key, which they can then pick up and carry with them as they traverse the stage, avoiding deadly creatures as they go. The control system at first is not readily obvious and there were no prompts at the initial drawing stage to tell us how start. To break it down, you select or deselect the pencil using the left button on the d-pad, hold down either trigger to draw with either stick and then accept the drawing with the A button, or reject it with Y. When the pencil is not selected, navigation is standard fare, moving with the directional sticks and jumping with A. The control scheme itself is not that difficult to pick up, we just wish that we had a little bit of a prompting on how to go about things, considering that Draw a Stickman is essentially an unfamiliar, new genre.
A similar lack of instruction creeps into the gameplay too. While the game does inform you that each unique pencil you unlock at the start of a level can have more than one action attached to it, there are again no sort of prompts to remind you of how to switch between them. For example, in an early stage, the "cloud" pencil allows the player to draw a cloud and make it rain, enabling flowers to grow as a distraction to killer bees, but it also allows you to draw a darker storm cloud that might send a lightning bolt along a conductor which will unblock the path ahead. After exploring the level for a good while to search for collectibles and making it rain to open up some paths, it took us far too long to work out how to switch between the two options to make lightning - which involved pressing X rather than A after drawing the cloud to change it into a storm cloud. The result of using the second option was amusing and ultimately opened up the end of the level, but given that this was the one and only time we needed to use the second function within the level, this just made a somewhat frustrating introduction to the power of the pencils.
We were rather perplexed to discover early on that the player does not even have to draw the required shape in order to progress or trigger actions generally. We found that a mass of red squiggles made adequate fire and our aforementioned key became a variety of random shapes, as it disappeared when we died and so we had to keep drawing it over again. Eventually, we escaped that particular level by carting around and pushing what we can only describe as an upside-down "A" into locks. As amusing as that sounds, we don't think that it was what developers Hitcents intended and it ultimately broke any immersion that might have been created by the world itself. That's a shame because Draw a Stickman: EPIC is a lovely looking game and the world is generally cleverly designed.
From the Armakillo Pass to Zarp's Fortress, the artistic stylings of the stickman world are beautifully imagined, The colours are somewhat muted throughout, but this works with the perception that your stick-hero is navigating through a world that has been created within a sketch book. This is a world that is not simply filled with monsters, but adorable bunny rabbits and pretty flowers. The effect that using the pencil powers has upon this world is equally impressive. We originally went gung-ho into the opening level, equipped with our fire pencil. With reckless abandon we drew our scribbly red "fire" messes to open up paths to explore but quickly learned that the fire can spread, causing some very detailed yet saddening devastation to the landscape and wildlife. Needless to say, we learned our lesson and acted a little more carefully after that, but these events are a neat little addition to proceedings that made the pencil-drawn world feel organic and real.
The soundtrack is by no means bad but does at times feel repetitive, especially if you have to start a tricky level over due to an unfortunate encounter with one of the game's many monsters. This becomes a problem when the music stands out so much that you become aware of it, rather than it being a serene accompaniment to the gameplay.
The game itself is not at all very long, coming in at under four hours. Short, sweet and quirky but ultimately not as ground-breaking as it could have been, Draw a Stickman: EPIC will divert players attention for an afternoon but unless you are very creatively minded, we suspect that is all you will take from it, sadly.
A cutesy title that is well-suited for playing with younger members of the family who will enjoy its simple nature, Draw a Stickman has a unique premise that sadly suffers in its execution as a console port. While the game is fun to explore and the sketch-book world is beautifully crafted, we can't help but feel it would be much more accessible on the mobile platforms it was originally created for.