Scribblenauts

Date Mon, October 26 2009

Scribblenauts is one of the few games I’d heard of and really wanted on release and I got it only a day or so after. I had read a lot of reviews near the time of release so I had a fair idea of what to expect but I was still impressed with the game itself, minus a few issues. Ryan has even said that the game is more interesting than he would have thought, too.

scribblenautscoverAt its core, Scribblenauts is about solving puzzles to get Starlites but what makes it different form your generic PuzzleAdventure2000 is how you do it. At the beginning of each stage, you are given a goal and an overview of the people, places and things in the stage with a suggestion of how many items it should take to complete (par). You can play in either Puzzle or Adventure Mode. In Puzzle Mode, the starlight drops as soon as you complete a goal. In Adventure Mode, the Starlite is in the screen but there are obstacles between it and you.

Essentially, you conjure up items (or people) with something akin to a handy-dandy notebook. These items can be used to climb, build, break, attack, chase, cover, transport, carry and more. It is the specific items you use which make Scribblenauts a unique experience for every player. The title screen is a great, interactive example of this. You can use the notebook to see what sort of items exist and let them roam around freely to see how they interact with you, other people and/or items; this also unlocks bonus backgrounds for the screen. Lots of people have toted the fun of the title screen alone and I think that says a lot about the concept of Scribblenauts.

Of course, there are limits to what you can conjure. No people (like Oprah), profanity or trademarked things so that means no Batman or Scooby Doo. Zombies, witches and aliens are all fair game, however. So are cats, dogs and any other animal you can think of (plus some you’ve never heard of). Additionally, they have certain breeds of animals; I can bring to life my own little Russian Blue and pretend it’s Phantom. You can conjure vague items like to see what it makes. “Furniture” makes a chair, I believe, while “vehicle” gives you the same little red car as “car”. Unfortunately, there is some overlap with items. Some of the people you can conjure are the same as other entries but, overall, the dictionary is immense. I am continually surprised by the sheers number of items I can use so the possibilities really are endless.

Scribblenauts_7Which leads me to my next point. Although you can get through the stages using some of the same objects repeatedly (rope seems to be one I find myself using frequently and when I get lazy, I just kill enemies), you can earn more points (ollars, which can be spent at the Ollar Store for avatars or background music) or merits (achievement badges) by doing things uniquely. Using the same type of item, completely different items, killing all the characters or befriending all the characters can all result in different point combinations and ratings. In fact, once completed you can replay the stages to attempt to solve it in a completely different way than you first did.

This means a whole lot of time can be spent (wasted?) on Scribblenauts. I think it would make a great game to play while waiting for someone/thing. On the other hand, the individual stages are all rather short so it’s easy enough to squeeze one or two if you have only a little time on your hands and because all the stages are generally unrelated, it’s easy to stop whenever you have to.

As you can guess, the focus on items means this game doesn’t have amazing graphics. They’re small, cute and generally cartoonish without a whole lot of detail. There’s enough detail that you can tell an iris from any other flower but don’t expect the realism that many console games have come to portray as of late. Of course, you don’t really expect that from game made specifically for Nintendo DS (the game does depend mostly on use of the stylus), either.

There are a couple downfalls to the focus on what I call the “item dictionary”. First there doesn’t seem to be as much thought put into what the objects actually do; sometimes they act in bewildering and frustrating ways but sometimes this helps to promote creativity. For instance, a mechanic didn’t fix a car and a beekeeper was afraid of bees. You can use the stylus to move objects and can rotate them to a certain extent but some objects just do not behave true to life.

scribblenauts1Secondly, your character (which starts out as a boy named Max but I’ve changed my avatar since then) moves in awkward ways. The controls are a little clumsy sometimes and there’s a tendency for your character to knock stuff over and get stuck which makes it necessary to repeat the stage. However, this is a minor drawback to everything else Scribblenauts brings to the plate.

While Scribblenauts might look like a child’s game initially, I was surprised by how complex some of the puzzles are and how creative I had to be to solve them. Even Ryan agreed. Yet, sometimes things really are as simple as they look! I would recommend Scribblenauts to just about anyone who is a fan of puzzle games and has a little time to spare.

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