Back in June, 5th Cell (creators of Drawn to Life and Locke’s Quest) blew everyone away at E3 with their new game, Scribblenauts, and its motto: Write Anything, Solve Everything. People were amazed by the idea of a game that could conjure up any object the user could imagine (except copyrighted or profane). Boasting a dictionary of over 22,800 words, Scribblenauts promised to be the most imaginative game of this generation. The question is, does it pull it off? The answer: yes, but with a few imperfections.
Scribblenauts opens with a sandbox-like title screen, where Maxwell (our hero) stands alone and the game allows you to write words at your leisure and simply play around with the game’s interface. For the week or so that I’ve owned the game, I have found myself spending twenty minutes or so several times just sitting at the title screen trying out words and combinations of objects. The word catalogue is absolutely incredible, although I have found a few words to be mysteriously missing (bagpipes and muse are a couple). Also, while Zeus may be in the game, don’t expect to be able to file through Greek mythology and test every single god (not even Apollo). However, nearly every animal known to man is most likely in there. The game does, however, recycle alot of the artwork. Going back to Zeus, the same sprite will be summoned for Zeus and God. I was testing different dinosaur names, and while I was surprised by some additions (Spinosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Compsognathus, and Dimetrodon all had their own unique artwork), it seems that some (Pachycephalosaurus) are resorted to a more generic “dinosaur” artwork. Perhaps I’m being a bit too picky here, but I’m simply pointing out that the game’s not perfect. The dictionary also includes a wide array of internet memes, such as keyboard cat, long cat, lol wut, giant enemy crab, and my personal favorite, All Your Base Are Belong to Us.
Scribblenauts has great progression. Although the tutorial is a bit long and cumbersome (including a very poorly done airplane level), the game quickly picks up and introduces you to two types of levels in which you will be going after starites: puzzle and action. The puzzle levels present you with a scenario that you must solve; do what it asks and it will give you the starite. In action levels, the starite is presented to you, along with an obstacle (or several) to prevent you from getting there; overcome the obstacle and you can claim the starite as your own. My experience is that the action levels are significantly more challenging than the puzzle levels, but the puzzle ones more fun. It will be up to you what kind of challenge you enjoy the most, but there is enough variety here that everyone will find something they enjoy. On top of that, after you complete the level you are challenged to an advanced setting; that is, complete the puzzle three times without reusing a single word. This is a great way to encourage you to come up with more creative ways to solve the puzzle instead of resorting to the all-too-common helicopter/rope combo.
The graphic-style is charming and simplistic, and most of the time it words. However, I did notice that the game can become bogged down when the level fills up. If too many point of articulation are on the screen at once the frame rate will drop considerably. For example, I was playing a level in which I connected several items together with ropes (each of which is made up of four or five connected pieces. By the time the last rope was connected the game was barely chugging along, and when I got rid of the ropes the frame rate jumped back up. This isn’t hugely detrimental to the gameplay, but can be quite obnoxious.
As you complete each level, you will be evaluated on three levels: par, style, and time. The better you do, the more Ollars you will receive for completing the level, which you can then use to buy new worlds, avatars, or songs. The avatars are especially fun, allowing you to play as a pirate, ninja, alien, or tiki witch-doctor. The songs are used in the game’s level creator, which is minimal. Don’t expect to be making levels like the 5th Cell guys did; you can only use templates from previously defeated levels and can only create action levels. Its still decent though, and sharing levels via friend codes is a nice bonus.
Now we come to the biggest tie-up of the game: the controls. You control Maxwell indirectly by tapping the screen where you want Maxwell to go. The learning curve can be a bit of a challenge, and can prove consistently frustrating when you accidentally tell Maxwell to dive into the lava instead of moving the bridge that was supposed to get him over it in the first place (manipulation of objects is also done via the stylus).
The controls also become frustrating when trying to connect objects together with rope, glue, etc. All-too-often I have been frustrated as I try to get the two green dots to connect to each other. It would be nice if there was a “magnetic” pull to the sites; instead you are left staring at the red object, moving the stylus around ever-so-slightly in hopes that you’ll see a flicker of green.
The groundwork they have laid for this game make it the perfect candidate for a sequel. Polish the controls, fix the bogged down frame rate, enhance the dictionary a bit, add more unique artwork, and give us more great scenarios. Scribblenauts is a definite essential for any DS owner, and has laid the groundwork for a wonderful franchise.