‘Draw a Stickman!’ Is that a suggestion or a command? The anti-authoritarian in me did as all who have a go at playing this game will do and drew a steaming turd instead. One click and a simple but smart animation had my poop pootling around the screen. And for just a moment… I was charmed.
So what is the game? You draw your avatar and then a friend for him (an amorphous blob that should have been a beautiful lady but I was annoyed by the mouse-etching by then – more on that in a bit). Seconds later and your newly sketched pal is eaten by a book and you jump in to save them. Save them how? Puzzles. Puzzles where you draw the solutions. Sounds promising, right?
At the start of each level you are given access to one of four crayons (a few others pop up in bonus levels but for the most part that's your lot) - each crayon provides different powers; 'fire' burns, 'axe' chops etc. There are nuances: draw a cloud with the cloud crayon and it rains, colour that cloud in (scribble on it) and it’s a storm cloud: zap, zap, zap. But interactions are restrictive; up against a large enemy I decided to run away and draw on a bridge with my fire crayon. But the boss didn’t follow and the bridge didn’t burn. So I went back and set him on fire… yay. This is where the game falls flat. Draw a Stickman: Epic’s nearest relative is Scribblenauts, where instead of drawing your solution you summon it up by spelling it out. However in Scribblenauts the limitations on your solutions and your summonings are (seemingly) limitless – whereas here they are (severely) limited.
A game about drawing solutions with an enchanted crayon should be about letting your imagination do all the work; creating your own personal Penny Crayon episode (don't worry if you don't get that reference - I had to rely on Google to crowbar her out of the recesses of my memory) and it should be all about imaginative and interesting options, while the systems of the game should, at the very least, allow for multiple solutions. But no, puzzles are linear and for all intents and purposes these crayons are just spells that require awkward mouse gestures - cast water on plants to make them grow, fire on dynamite to make it blow. Rinse, repeat. Even the puzzles are lacking in scope: the cloud crayon is almost exclusively restricted to growing plants to distract bees or filling puddles to float objects. That is dull and uninspiring.
Draw a Stickman: EPIC is available on both tablets and desktops, and while it functions perfectly well on the former it’s downright painful on the latter and unluckily, that's the version I'm reviewing. As anyone that’s tried to use paint to draw boobs on a scanned image of your best mate will know: mouse drawing lacks fidelity, precision and outright comfort. It’s not like your artwork is important though, you never get rated for your scribblings and the game will accept pretty much any shape you give it: ‘draw a cloud’ the game suggested – so I accidentally drew a confused one-legged pirate sheep. My pirate sheep still rained though. However, the inaccuracy of it all meant that my gaming avatar was an eye-sore, drawing keys or axes were reduced to single lines to save me effort, and the amount of times I accidently set myself on fire because I couldn’t - in effect - colour within the lines, was frustrating.
The pace is off too – each puzzle groans into life and animations creep forward. And you die. My god, you die. Your stickman is not ‘epic’ in any shape or form: a few impacts from enemies with unpredictable hitboxes or a badly judged fire or storm spell (the awkward angle used by the game means it's easy to be hit by things that have no right to be touching you) and you're wiped out. Die and you have to start again from the beginning with everything reset - that means going through the same agonising process of redrawing that key, picking it up, putting it in the lock, drawing an axe, switching that out... it's tiresome and it happens far too often.
On each level there’s exploration to be done and collectibles to be unlocked by interacting with subtly hidden puzzles, providing a welcome distraction from the main quest. Bonus levels, new colours for you avatar and pages that fill in the land's back-story encourage you to pay close attention to your surroundings. As well as this, levels often open up multiple routes, encouraging repeat playthroughs. But with all that said, the game is still too short. Even with multiple reloads due to poor game mechanics, the main quest can be breezed through in a couple of hours.
Visually Draw a Stickman: EPIC is uninspiring – and yet another disappointment from a concept that promised so much – yes 'stick man' doesn't provoke thoughts of Matisse or Monet but games such as Okami have shown that a hand drawn aesthetic can be charming. Here the artwork is generic and painfully brown. The music and sound effects exhibit whimsy though.
Ultimately this is a puzzler let down not only by its poor execution but also by the promises of a concept which it never lives up to. The title suggests creativity but the game neither allows or provides any. Colour me disappointed.