E3 2009 was a time for hands on with many of the games that are coming out now. The one game that seemed to get everyone’s attention at that time was a little DS game by developer 5th Cell called Scribblenauts. This game essentially lets you use whatever you can think of and put it in the game to solve a series of puzzles. There are some quirks that might get in your way, but overall this is a really fun title that you should check out.
The basic idea behind Scribblenauts seems really basic. There is a starite somewhere in the level and you have to retrieve it. There could be a number of obstacles in the way that you have to clear, but your imagination is the only thing holding you back. There are two different modes of play in Scribblenauts. The first is a puzzle mode where you are given an objective that you must complete in order to obtain the starite. These can range anywhere from getting a cat out of a tree, to getting a lifeguard to jump in a pool or many, many more. They start out very simple to get you into the idea of what exactly they want from you and get more complex as you go along. The second play mode is an action play mode, where you must get past a number of obstacles and “enemies” in order to reach the starite. These will be things like sneaking past security guards in a warehouse to get the star or creating a course where the star has to avoid spikes in order to reach you.
In each level you are given a par, or a number of objects you should be able to finish the level with. Finish below par and you’ll be rewarded with more ollars, the currency in Scribblenauts. Finish over par and you’ll receive less money. You’re also rewarded for how creative you are with the objects you use. There is a meter that looks very much like a thermometer that you use to understand how many objects you can have in the level at any one time. If that meters fills us you must remove something in order to place something else. Aside from that meter there is virtually no limit to the amount of objects that are in the game.
How do you retrieve these stars? Simple. Bring up the games keyboard, or scratch pad by pressing the notebook icon on the top-right portion of the lower screen. You can then enter the name of any object you think of and as long as it’s in the game’s dictionary it will be spawned into the world. There are reportedly over 22,000 objects that the game will recognize ranging anywhere from a puppy to God. These objects interact with each other somewhat realistically. For example, if you spawn a puppy and a cat, the puppy will chase, and probably kill the cat. Spawn in God and the devil and God will smite the devil with his awesomeness. That’s where the game’s creativity comes in. Sure you could spawn a ladder to get a cat out of a tree, but why not spawn an eagle and have it scare the cat out of the tree? The possibilities are almost endless.
5th Cell is most famous for their work on the Drawn to Life game where you created your own hero as well as a number of objects in that world and this game has that same style. It looks very much like a child’s drawings where everything is a bit squiggly and not very clean. That’s also what gives the game its charm. Everything is drawn to look like it fits perfectly in the world. All the items, people and places are a bit stylized and caricatures of themselves. For example, the T-Rex you can spawn has a head that is nearly as big as its body. All the people have big heads, with small eyes and no other features and everything moves like it’s a paper cut out held together at the joints with pins. It makes for a very charming look that you will fall in love with as soon as you see it.
Each level earns Maxwell, the main character, ollars that can be used in the store to purchase new levels, background music and even different avatars that you can play as. If you want to change the look of Maxwell simply go to the store and buy the zombie avatar and you’ll play the game as a zombie. It would have been nice to have some extra customization in that respect, but there are about a dozen different characters you can choose so there’s something out there for everyone. Overall, there are about 220 different puzzles that can be solved in the game. There are 110 action puzzles and 110 puzzle levels. It will take even experienced players a good long while to solve some of the more difficult puzzles in the game.
There are a couple of things that might hold back your enjoyment of the game and one of them is pretty big. Controlling Maxwell can be a bit of a chore. To move him around you tap somewhere on the screen or you can drag the stylus along in front of him to make him move. This does not give you very precise control over his movements and there will be many times you need to make small movements and the game doesn’t recognize that. As a result you will often jump into pools of lava, off cliffs or just move items that cause the work you’ve been doing to go wrong and you have to repeat the level. The d-pad is used to control the camera. I think if those two things had been switched and you had direct control of Max it would have gone a long way to solve that issue.
There were also a couple instances when the game froze and had to be restarted. I was never able to duplicate those circumstances so that could simply have been a glitch that won’t happen to many people. The physics in Scribblenauts are also not completely what you would expect and so some things you think normally wouldn’t happen would. For example ropes dropped on bridges could cause the bridge to move and fall into the area you’re trying to cross. This is something that could be fixed in a sequel and wasn’t too big an issue, but it did happen occasionally.
All in all, though, Scribblenauts is an excellent experience, as long as you don’t let the controls get in the way. The sheer volume of stuff that can be done could be overwhelming, but chances are you’ll find the few combinations of items that work best for you and you’ll use them a number of times. Puzzle games come in a number of different varieties and this really is one of the more unique ones out there.
Final Score: 4/5 Above Average