Game Review: Scribblenauts


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[Purchase DS Gamealt]

Scribblenauts is an absolutely brilliant idea trapped in a merely OK game — luckily, the idea is so strong, it’s still worth recommending. The idea — which, again, is just outstanding — is that you’re a fella named Maxwell and you’re confronted with a series of puzzles, but you can create just about ANYTHING you can think of by writing it. Given that it’s a DS game — you can literally write it, or you’re given the option to hunt-and-peck with the stylus on a QWERTY keyboard. The latter typically works better; the handwriting recognition wasn’t as good as in some titles — but then, I’m a particularly brutal tester on that front, as anyone who’s actually seen my handwriting can attest. (To prove it I could always write this review out by hand and scan it, but, trust me — you don’t want that.)

The main issue with the game is that the controls are terrible; I had to take a few attempts at levels not because of actual errors I’d made, but because I didn’t click in the exact right place, which made Maxwell think I was moving him and sent him careening off a cliff. Or into a bomb. Or a zombie. Or Manbearpig. Or whatever. Maxwell is controlled by clicking in places with the stylus on the touchscreen — so if you miss an object (which are ALSO interacted with by touching them with the stylus), Maxwell runs over there whether he should or not. This is INCREDIBLY frustrating, and I spent too much time swearing at the little guy.

As absolutely irritating and, unfortunately, frequent that is, the levels themselves are quite fun, particularly that there’s no set way to solve a puzzle. Sometimes this involves some pretty quick, almost cheater-type answers (Oh, I’ll just fly over everything!) that make me picture the developers going “NO! You’re not supposed to do it like THAAT!”, but a lot of times it requires some cool lateral thinking. You also get a LOT of puzzles; there are 22 levels in each of 10 worlds — you’ll be playing for a while — though each individual puzzle is usually brief enough where you don’t have to worry about spending an hour on steps 1-543 only to have to start over again when Maxwell accidentally drinks a bottle of arsenic on step 544.

The real fun of the game is in trying to stump the dictionary. There’re a few that it doesn’t have (I was surprised when it didn’t have “clock radio”), but for every major one you can think of it doesn’t have, there are probably 5 or 6 that you try on a whim that it DOES. (I don’t want to spoil too much, but try a few Internet Memes.)

I don’t know if Scribblenauts was rushed — there’re a few bugs and the aforementioned movement problems — but hopefully it does well enough for a Scribblenauts 2. I’d love to see an improved game with better controls (i.e. either moving Maxwell with the keypad or introducing a “move mode”, where if you didn’t have it clicked on, he’d stay stationary) and more logical physics. Though, honestly — even if Scribblenauts 2 plays the exact same, just with more levels, I may be a little disappointed, but I’ll still be picking it up. Normally the worst thing is an excellent idea executed poorly, or even not up to the level it deserves. While Scribblenauts definitely deserves better — it’s a testament to the excellent idea that it’s apparently SO GOOD that not even such awful controls can kill it. Definitely check this game out.

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