Draw a Stickman EPIC Review

Hey you, can you draw a stickman? That’s the very first question that developer Hitcents wants to know the answer to in their recently released Draw a Stickman EPIC (out now, $0.99), the latest title in their Draw a Stickman series of iOS games. Well – assuming you can draw a stickman – then Hitcents has an EPIC adventure in store for you involving magical pencils, hidden objects, branching level paths, and poorly executed hit boxes (more on that last part later on).

The epic adventure begins when you realize that your freshly minted stick figure is a bit lonely looking on that big piece of all paper all by himself, and so you immediately decide to draw the guy a friend. His friend then promptly decides to explore a nearby evil looking book that just happened to be laying around, and of course the book returns the favor by sucking in the curious stick figure. This leaves your original stickman with no choice but to bravely venture forth and save his friend from the realm inside the evil tome, at which point the title screen comes up for the first time and – in a nice touch – reveals that the game’s full title is Draw a Stickman EPIC: The Search for X (where X is whatever name you decided to give your friend).

The controls for Draw a Stickman EPIC are divided into two areas: drawing and walking. To walk you simply tap where you want your stickman to go and he will try to walk there in an absolutely straight line, awkwardly getting stuck on each and every bit of scenery along the way. Alternatively you can drag and hold which will cause the stickman to indefinitely walk in the direction of wherever your finger currently is, although this method is hard to steer and will still end with the hero getting stuck on the scenery a lot. The issues in the walking system aren’t too much of a problem when the game begins, but become downright murderous once you reach the back half of Draw a Stickman EPIC’s levels (more on this later on when I cover the issue with hitboxes).

I am happy to say that you won’t have much to worry about in the way of recognition failure issues when trying to draw items to help out your stickman, since Draw a Stickman EPIC identifies the item you drew by the pencil you scribbled it with rather than the strokes used. While this does alleviate the problem that many touch screen games have had where the software never seems to correctly acknowledge the item you were trying to draw, the problem here is that you only have four different pencil types to play with: fire, cloud, axe, and key. To exacerbate this limited selection choice, most of the levels in the game will preselect 1-to-2 of the pencils and limit you to only those for the duration of the stage. So if you’re in a stage and the only pencil the game is letting you use is the fire pencil, then the solution to every last obstacle encountered during that level is going to be for you to set fire to something nearby.

Speaking of the fire pencil, the way the game decides whether or not something is hit with fire is really weird and poorly implemented. While the fire pencil will normally set ablaze anything remotely close to the roaring flames you have drawn, generally including yourself, it will often fail to set fire to any TNT fuses clearly within the inferno. Apparently fuses only catch fire if the base of the roaring blaze is exactingly placed in relation to the TNT’s location, which is really annoying since many times you’ll have to blow up dynamite in order to clear the path ahead for your stickman. Oh, and also be sure that your stickman is nowhere near the dynamite when it blows up and sets fire to everything around it or you’ll die (which is often easier said than done with the clunky walking controls).

Early on in the adventure your hero will mostly be alone in his quest to find his friend, but as he progresses he will begin running into monsters with an ever increasing encounter rate. Stickmen apparently aren’t the hardiest of people, and run-ins with monsters will more or less spell instantaneous death for our heroically lean adventurer with the pipe cleaner physique. Any time your stickman dies either from a monster – or from an accident tied into something you yourself did – it is a complete wipe that sends your stickman back to the beginning of the level, with only secret items like puzzle pieces staying found.

Early on the level restarts are only mildly annoying and not the worst of issues, but the game takes a turn for the absolute perverse when you start getting into areas with lots of monsters. Monsters have giant bounding boxes around them that equal instant death for our hero should he ever even nick them for a second, which is especially ‘fun’ when many later parts of the game will require you to lead a monster to a specific spot – using the game’s clunky walking controls – in order to solve a puzzle. Also remember that I said that Draw a Stickman EPIC lacks checkpoints in any of its levels, so getting touched by the last monster in a long level will negate all of you hard work getting past all the enemies leading up to the point.

The situation that I have described above would already be bad enough as it is, but it only gets worse when you factor in that the monsters’ hit boxes do not account at all for the fact the game is presented in an ANGLED top down perspective. The angled view the world is presented in means that it’s possible for two objects to be overlapping even when they aren’t remotely close to each other at all, but Draw a Stickman EPIC’s poorly implemented hit boxes will still count is as a player death all the same. I once actually got killed by a zombie that was separated from me by a fence – a fence I wasn’t even standing next to – because the bottom of the zombie’s foot just happened to be clipping the top of my stickman’s head, instantly wiping all of my progress for that level.

During the final level of Draw a Stickman EPIC these issues combine to form a stage that – while not impossible – is really far more difficult, for all the wrong reasons, than it has any right to be. It really doesn’t help in the final stage when Hitcents starts pulling the underhanded trick of making it so that the player only learns something after they died because of what they didn’t yet know. It also doesn’t help that in the midst of the final stage’s multi-step solution – where you need to stand in specific places despite walking control imprecision – as well as set various things on fire in tight quarters without burning either yourself or the wrong objects too soon, you are forced to be quick thanks to the addition of a time limit (which no other level employs).

The various list of un-pleasantries aside, there actually are things in Draw a Stickman EPIC that were enjoyable (just not enough of them to redeem the game from the fact that playing it is anything but elegant). The fact that the game bases objects on pencils means you have the freedom to do whatever you like when it comes to axe and key, you are completely free to unlock that treasure chest with a kitten if that is what tickles your fancy. It was also nice just how many unimportant objects in the background scenery can be destroyed/damaged with fire, a closet pyromaniac might manage to spend way too much time in sadistic glee on just the first two levels alone.

Draw a Stickman EPIC also features levels with multiple exits, giving players replaying the game a chance to discover paths to all new stages they never before experienced during their initial shot through the game (assuming anyone would ever actually want to play the game more than once). The game furthermore has a secret puzzle piece in each level, usually hidden behind a more difficult than normal optional puzzle (often testing the boundaries of the game’s design issues), to give people who like collecting things something to strive for. There’s also the general art style of the game itself which, minus the parts the player is required to create, really do a great job of complimenting the stickman motif without making the game look extremely cheap in the process.

iFanzine Verdict: Draw a Stickman EPIC is a game with a great premise that somehow got taken out of the oven and offered for sale before it had even barely begun to brown, let alone rise up at all. The game’s conceit is fun, but has far few too may actions the player can take; the game is furthermore plagued with poorly implemented walking controls, which are exacerbated when the game later on demands the player to perform precise and fast walking in certain places; and finally the game’s hit-boxes were programmed without any regards to how the world was presented with an angled perspective, resulting in the player often getting hit by enemies that aren’t actually touching them when the third dimension is taken into account. In the end Draw a Stickman EPIC feels more like a proof of concept demonstration for an idea that could have been further developed into a really great game, than anything resembling a product ready for prime time.