Impressions Of Drawn: Dark Flight

By John Walker on October 1st, 2010 at 1:23 am.

It's not that cheery of a game.

Ever since I played the trial version of Drawn: Dark Flight, I’ve wanted to go back to it. It seemed special. Having now finished it, I can confirm it is. Created internally by casual game distributors Big Fish Games, it doesn’t seem to have received its deserved coverage, so here’s some now.

Perhaps what most distinguishes Dark Flight is that it’s not a hidden object game. It is, in fact, a full adventure game, complete with multiple characters, inventory puzzles, and a splendid, dark fairytale story. It’s the sequel to Drawn: The Painted Tower, a sweet game but one that was clearly a stepping stone toward reaching Dark Flight’s loveliness. While the story directly continues after the first game, everything makes perfect sense without playing both.

You play an unseen protagonist, charged with relighting a city’s three beacons, in order to rescue a young girl called Iris. To reach each of the three you have to solve multiple puzzles, and most distinguishingly, interact with a number of paintings. Delightfully, Dark Flight’s design takes a sort of “paper is magic” approach, meaning anything folded, painted or drawn can come to life, or be entered into.

The most obvious version of this is paintings. Complete a painting by restoring any torn canvas and you can enter it, Rose Madder style. Inside your unseen character can talk to characters within, gather necessary items, and always change something of the world in the picture. Objects from inside the painting can be taken outside, and become real. But equally, so can hand-drawn items (occasionally the game has you trace dotted lines with crayon or charcoal, to finish pictures) be used, both inside a painting, and in reality. If you are missing a carrot for a puzzle involving a rabbit, then the drawing of a carrot in your inventory is just as good.

Papercraft and art items appear to be intrinsically magical, meaning their properties and abilities are never clear. The game’s absolute highlight are the pop-up books – phenomenally gorgeous designs that can be manipulated by pulling on tags, and then further by applying objects found in the rest of the game. Changing seasons by adding a sun, or lighting papercraft beacons with drawings of flames, make for remarkably rewarding puzzles.

Then there’s dioramas, with multiple backgrounds, props, and gadgets involved. There’s papercraft puppetry, there’s collage, and more. It’s all so smart, and so seemingly in love with the format.

Along with all this are more traditional puzzles, although – for once – not the same as every other casual adventure. Yes, there’s a torn paper puzzle, but no, it’s nothing like simply reassembling an image. It’s about overlapping scraps of design, an imaginative twist. There’s many logic puzzles, all fresh to my weary, jaded eyes. And some are extremely challenging. One in particular involves colouring in a giant face with six distinct colours. Not unusual, and of course needs you to mix them from three base colours. However, here it’s about a vast network of chambers and gates, the liquid paint flowing in from one section to the next, mixing as colours meet. It was remarkably difficult, and after coming so very, very close to finishing it, and spotting a stupid mistake that would mean starting all over again, I confess I used the “skip puzzle” option that appears for every challenge.

It’s on a very short timer, and if you’re frustrated, or just want to move on with the story, you can hit it and the puzzle’s automagically completed. It’s enormously unsatisfying to click, and doesn’t reveal how a puzzle is solved either, so using it can only make you feel shamed, meaning it’s never tempting to cheat. But what’s important is that it’s there, so you won’t get stuck behind something your brain can’t quite figure out.

Other clues are offered if you’re stuck for progress. Despite the game flagging each new challenge very well, you may forget what you were up to between sessions, or simple have gotten tangled. There’s no giant cooldown on its offering you the next tip (unlike the previous game), meaning you can learn what to do whenever you need.

But most of all, it’s beautiful. Really breathtakingly lovely. Every screen is a real joy, often surprisingly downbeat or darkly presented, although frequently exuberantly bright and colourful. Very often your progress adds colour back to duller sections, although this isn’t a mechanic of the game.

The accompanying music is fantastic too, and the sparsely used voice acting is top notch. It really is quite the thing.

Really, this is worth a look. It’s a sombre fairytale, gorgeously presented. It’s not a classic point and click adventure, but it’s also nothing like the dreary button-pusher nonsense that’s dominating the casual adventure field. It’s actually rather special.

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18 Comments »

  1. Assaf says:

    although i loved the first drawn, i can hardly play this one. i tried, but after quite a few screens it just doesn’t flow right. the original had great flow, and i really liked exploring it. this one just isn’t enjoyable to me. i haven’t finished it, so i’ll probably give it a second try sometime, but for now – it just doesn’t give me as much as fun as the first.

  2. Giant, fussy whingebag says:

    Sounds like someone actually decided to design a puzzle/adventure game, as opposed to writing a story and having the player go through a checklist to advance the plot.

    My worry is that it sounds a bit… Myst-y. Oh, how dull those games are! I’ll give the trial a go; hopefully I am wrong.

  3. John Peat says:

    Heads-up for the DRM/clutterware grumblers on here – the trial for this installed the BigFishGames installer and other gubbins.

    If you hate that sort of thing – I thought I’d save you the trouble of moaning about it by letting you know :)

    • John Peat says:

      p.s. upside is you get the full game, just limited to 60 mins of play – and it is really, really pretty.

      The papercraft stuff has been crafted with some considerable love…

    • John Walker says:

      You don’t, unfortunately. As I said in the previous post, it cuts you off when you reach the city.

    • Giant, fussy whingebag says:

      Yeah, that Big Fish Games manager annoyed me somewhat…

      It’s not the full game, just time-limited though. It boots you out with a message to buy after you exit the underground area. Not that it matters, just thought I’d correct the error.

      Personally, I was underwhelmed with it, having read this. Perhaps it picks up a bit after the demo, but I found it slightly dull.

      Whilst charmingly original, the puzzles were generally a bit obvious; there’s sparkling above every important item and the solutions are sitting glaring in your face on the same screen. The one that got to me most was the bars on that cell door. It looked like someone else had solved the puzzle for you and drawn instructions! I suppose it’s possible that these are easing you into it, but I now have no intention of paying to find out.

      The story parts are also a little painful. Voice acting sounds like someone reading a bedtime story to their kid, badly. If it was just that, mute would fix it, but the writing is terrible too! Is it deliberate? Are they trying to mock the evil king trope?

      It does look nice, though…

    • Giant, fussy whingebag says:

      Ah, beaten by the Walker as I write my review of the demo!

    • LintMan says:

      Does the full game still require the DRM/clutterware/”manager”/etc?

  4. Sagan says:

    Ah I wish I could enjoy this as much as you do. But while playing the demo I had to click on the ask for advice button a little too often, because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. And that just takes all the fun out of a puzzle game.

  5. Igor Hardy says:

    Sounds great! Downloading the trial right away.

    On a side note, I’m really happy that the casual market now allows for games like this to happen.

  6. KillahMate says:

    See, if you hadn’t told me about this I never would have even looked at it. Some things might still turn me off it, but at lest now I have a notion of the game.

  7. Taillefer says:

    I mention these almost every time you write about similar games, maybe I should have emailed instead. Anyway, I’m glad you find them as charming as I do.

    Although the second one seems more polished with better puzzles, the narrative of the first seemed somehow stronger to me. That may have to do with the goal of rescuing this trapped, little girl seemed more important than lighting three beacons. Especially since I played along with my niece.

    The games look gorgeous, the music is lovely. Spend a little time taking in what’s on your screen without rushing through the puzzles. How can you not smile at paper, cut-out pirates?

    I believe the series will be a trilogy too. But I can’t remember where I heard that.

  8. Sagan says:

    I don’t know what I was thinking in my previous comment. I just played through the game with a couple of friends, and it is just lovely. Sure, there are some puzzles in the game where you think “how was I ever supposed to figure that out?” but that hardly matters when so much love has been put into this game.

  9. Lewis says:

    It’s an absolutely gorgeous, wonderful game, despite a few gripes I have. I’ve reviewed it for a place. I expect said review will be up soon.

  10. morgan says:

    is there gonna be a drawn 3 because i played dawn painted tower and it said to be continued so then i played drawn dark flight and at the end it said to be continued soo i was wondering if there was a third 1 cuming out???