Sometimes a game works best without context. Not every game needs a story to explain what is going on and why the player should be motivated to keep playing. Could you imagine Tetris being shoe-horned with a story about a wizard creating magical construction blocks that disappear in order to stop an evil real estate company from building a skyscraper that will block the sun from a poor farmer’s crops? Okay, bad example because that sounds awesome. Nevertheless, Draw Slasher is basically just that; it takes the core gameplay concept from Fruit Ninja - use your finger as a sword to cut through things - and wraps a dull 2D hack n’ slash adventure around it.
The story and set up are both simple. You are a young ninja named Hanzo. One day you return to your village to find the place has been destroyed and your clan abducted. Thus begins your bloody quest to save them. The story is neither deep nor interesting, though honestly you would never expect it to be in the first place. Your enemies are zombie pirate monkeys, or maybe that’s monkey zombie pirates... no, wait, they might actually be pirate monkey zombies — oh, whatever, all that matters is that they are things for you to slice into bloody pieces. I am truly puzzled by the game’s Teen rating because it has the blood and gore of an M rated game but the juvenile sense of humor of a 9 year old. As such, I’m not sure which type of gamer would be interested in Draw Slasher; I would hope not many because it's simply mediocre.
You control the game completely through touch screen interaction using your index finger. Some enemies can only be attacked from specific angles or from behind so you will occasionally have to take a few seconds to adequately aim your strikes. You can jump by tracing arcs in the air or slashing a line upwards. Sometimes the game tasks you with jumping over obstacles in order to reach an enemy on the other side of the screen which tests your timing, precision, and patience. It was during these sections, where the touchscreen constantly miscalculated the location of my finger swipes, that I desperately wished the game would just let me use a button to jump.
You can use magic by pinching the touchscreen with two fingers then selecting the type of magic by slashing over its icon. Magic abilities range from causing an earthquake that stuns nearby enemies to turning invisible so you can attack all of the enemies from any angle. These magic abilities mix up the combat a little bit but by the time you learn the ability to go berserk with your sword all of the others seem useless in comparison. Many boss battles culminate with an execution prompt that requires you to trace your slashes along predetermined paths, resulting in precision slices on your enemy. The game is actually well aware of its similarity to Fruit Ninja and even makes a boss battle about it that falls utterly flat.
The hand drawn 2D visuals are reminiscent of the sprites from Plants vs. Zombies. However, that game’s art direction has an inherent charm that Draw Slasher lacks. The oft repeated backdrops from the levels meld into one another and are not very interesting to look at in the first place. This blood and gore filled affair is further held back by static animation that would be more at home in a flash based browser game circa 2003 rather than Sony’s potentially graphically powerful Vita. Hanzo’s sword slashes are swift and (mostly) responsive to the lines you trace with your finger. The problem with this is that your hands, as well as the disappearing red lines that accompany each sword slash, obscure most of the action. At least the hand drawn cutscenes look crisp and clear on the Vita’s five inch screen. Other than the cutscenes, though, Draw’s Slasher’s visual pleasures are few and far between.
The oriental themed soundtrack similarly comes off as uninspired and will even drop out altogether during some gameplay segments. The voice acting is sparse but also nauseatingly bad. Hanzo sounds like a Brit doing a terrible Japanese impression while delivering equally dreadful one-liners. His sensei (or “sansai”, as Hanzo gratingly pronounces it) speaks with the same garbled syntax of Yoda from Star Wars because, screw it, he might as well.
To be fair, Draw Slasher began life as an iOS game. A fairly popular one at that. The Vita version of course adds trophies to collect and a challenge mode but almost everything else remains as it was. The game costs $5.99, which is not too bad, though it is several times more expensive than its iOS counterpart. In addition to the seven story levels, which should only take a few hours to complete, there are arcade modes and 30 unique challenges to play through. Online leaderboards also allow you to compare your ninja skills with fellow slashers around the globe. Additionally, you can replay story missions to improve your score and level up Hanzo to the point where you're able to unlock all of the upgrades. Of course, to enjoy all of that content you have to contend with some truly awful load times. Each section of every level is broken up by a loading screen that lasts upwards of ten seconds. This breaks the flow of the game considerably, though it does give you some time to rest your otherwise constantly moving index finger/sword.
Due to the long load times and numerous other issues mentioned above, I found myself frustrated with Draw Slasher from the very first level. Thankfully I warmed up to the game slightly once I learned to appreciate the variety of enemy types and assorted challenges the game packs into a very short, simple adventure, but it's still not an experience I’m keen on repeating and thus cannot give the game a firm recommendation.
This review is based on a purchased digital copy of Draw Slasher for PSVIta.