Game Review: ‘Scribblenauts’

Score: 9.0 – Nintendo DS – $29.99955689_127691_front

Ever since we heard about Scribblenauts at E3 and then finally got our hands on it at San Diego Comic-Con, there has been no handheld game more anticipated by any member of The Flickcast. Scribblenauts is without a doubt one of the most innovative and ambitious puzzle games to come out for any video game system. Recently, it was reported that someone had hacked the game’s ROM and found out that it featured over twenty thousand unique words in its database of objects that players could write and create during game play. Because of this, the combination of solutions are virtually infinite, only limited by the creativity of the player.

Like our hands on time at Comic-Con, having the full retail game in front of us has been nothing short of an addiction. Even turning off the Nintendo DS to type this review was a challenge. With 12 stages featuring 11 action challenges and 11 puzzle challenges, Scribblenauts offers a daunting amount of gameplay. But because of the game’s incredibly innovative format, time streaks by. Challenges range in difficulty from 1 to 4 stars with early stages staying in the lower ranges.

Every time a player defeats a challenge, they are awarded with ollars. Players use these ollars to purchase new skins for the game’s hero Maxwell such as an alien, bride or DJ, new music and most importantly unlock new stages. Luckily, no item in the game is ever locked. If a player wants to use an atomic bomb in the first mission to knock down a tree, they can try (even though it will also take out Maxwell in the process).

955689_20090603_790screen003The challenge types are often simple basic formulas like get Item A to point B, Person C to Point D or listen to the game’s simple trivia. Some can often be solved using a few basic items like wings, a fishing pole or of course everyone’s favorite go-to item, god. But that’s just boring. When you have an imagination like most video game players (or at least a dictionary in front of you with a list of nouns you’d like to use), even the simplest task can become the most complicated and convoluted plan ever. But that’s when things get really fun.

A great example of this comes in the fifth level of the game where a girl repeatedly jumps on a diving board. Your goal is to get her in the water. At first glance, one would think, push her in. But our hero Maxwell is apparently against violence towards women so the next option was to scare her in to the pool. This is where that atomic bomb mentioned earlier came in handy. As soon as she saw Maxwell start programming it, she jumped in the water as fast as she could.

After that, I tried various other methods of scaring her in like a crocodile, ghost, gargoyle, ect. Other options included dragging her in using a grappling hook or running at her with an axe. While Maxwell is against pushing women, threatening them with sharp objects doesn’t seem to bother him much.

955689_20090624_790screen005One of the greatest innovations is the AI of the game. While only a DS game, Scribblenauts features an amazing level of programming where every item instinctively knows how it is supposed to interact. Swords, knives and axes can all be used to cut while different animals know when they are supposed to fight or flee from other threats. Even the occupational characters such as plumber, thief and police know the right way to interact with the environment and other characters surrounding them.

The graphics are simple but cute and a perfect fit for this quirky game. The hand drawn style of the items looks great with their realistic style of animation. The music is also a good fit as it is present enough to remind the player its happening every now and then but never crosses that repetitive path to the point that it becomes annoying like some puzzle games often do (looking at you Bejeweled 2).

Scribblenauts is an all around great game with one exception: The controls. The touch screen works fantastic for either typing in item names on a keyboard or writing them. But actually using them or placing the items can sometimes become a chore. The game controls are almost all touch based which means to move Maxwell, a player must click on a spot on the screen where they want him to walk, fly or dive to or the object they want him to interact with.

955689_20090709_790screen008A player also chooses newly created objects by clicking on them and dragging them in to place. Every now and then, things won’t go as planned and when trying to click on an object, players will find Maxwell running to his death instead of patiently waiting for that bridge to be set up. Maxwell’s movements are based on basic pathfinding programming which RTS players can vouch don’t often go exactly as planned. It would have been a much easier time for players to use the D-Pad for movement and the stylus for item selection but it’s understandable why developer 5th Cell chose a different direction as use of the D-Pad would have made the game incredibly uncomfortable for left-handed writers to input their item choices.

Overall, Scribblenauts is one of the most fun experiences to be brought to the Nintendo DS and would be well worth the price of purchasing the handheld device for those who don’t own one yet (as long as you are a creative player. If you intend on using “fishing pole”, “wings” and “god” in every level, this one isn’t for you). It is refreshing to see a game that delivers on the promises made on its announcement and not have to dial the original concept back. 5th Cell made sure not to overextend themselves when creating Scribblenauts and in turn delivered a fantastic and unique puzzle experience. Be warned though, Scribbnauts is one of those games that is all consuming and addictive. Play at your own risk. But even if you do get addicted, it’s so worth it.

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