Scribblenauts review
Can't I just blow up the obstacle... oh, I actually can?


Every so often we get a game idea that manages to break away from the otherwise endless stream of tried and tested formulae. These are the kinds of games that don't just present a unique feature or a fresh approach on an old idea but instead give us an entire experience unlike the rest. Scribblenauts concept is to allow the creative minds of the gamers to flourish by letting them create almost anything they want to complete the levels and it's an idea that excites any gamer. After all, who could resist that?

The overall point of the game is to collect the starites located in every level. While each stage already has a multitude of objects already in place, the real point of it all is to summon new objects to solve the problems and reach the goal. A simple tap of the book opens up the input screen where you can tap in (or literally write if you want, although it's a painfully slower process) words of stuff you want to summon to the level. You can then drag the objects around, attach them to things in some cases and use them. Finding the right combinations is the key.

The best way to explain this all is an example. You have a starite hanging from a rope. You could create wings to fly up and grab it or shoot the rope with a gun or bring out a ladder to climb up to it. In this sense there are really multiple ways to tackle any given problem and limits are few. Indeed, the word collection is extensive, as the game recognizes loads and provides you with the necessary object you desire. If you want a slingshot then tap it in. Feel like driving to the next goal. Tap in car and go in style. The game even accounts for a variety of things you might not even think about initially, like summoning a black hole, the kraken or a god into the levels.

Of course, the collection isn't perfect. Anyone hoping to bust out their favourite superhero should think twice as they can't exactly go bringing out characters under copyright, or indeed anything that is a proper noun or related to something sexual. Additionally, some of the objects aren't what you expect. Trying to cross a gap I had the idea to summon a bridge. Great, except "bridge" brings up this really tiny thing that wasn't useful at all.

But these shortcomings are minor, because it's something that let's you pit a hydra against a god and see who wins, or lets you put on sunglasses for no other reason than you can. The developers have even accounted for this sense of wanting to mess around by turning the title screen into a sandbox playground, where you can abuse created objects as much as you want without worrying about failing a level. Feel like dropping a nuke on the place? Go right ahead.

The main mode to dive into is the adventure mode. Here you are given loads of levels to tackle that are split into two categories - puzzle and action. Puzzle are the more laid back variants and can cover a range of tasks such as figuring out what a NPC wants. Action up the pace a bit and will sometimes throw a time limit in, such as having to race someone to the starite or fight your way past a group of enemies. Between the two I do prefer the puzzle mode. It tends to be more creative in its tasks than the action mode and isn't held back by the controls. I found myself solving too many of the action levels using a select group of objects simply because there was never any need to use anything else.

The game offers a scoring system for these levels, just in case you're the kind to go for that. You're rated on time taken, number of objects summoned and style. It's not exactly clear what the game classifies as stylish but it's not a bad score setup in all. You can even shoot for achievement style awards with the medals, like clearing a level with new objects or avoiding hurting anything. To encourage even more play time is the advanced difficulty. Play a level again after beating it and you will be tasked to do it three times while using different items each time. This can prove quite challenging, although at times it's somewhat easy to abuse it by summoning very similar objects. Knocking down a collection of bottles tends not to involve much more than throwing three different types of ball.

If the tons of structured levels aren't enough then the level editor will go down a treat. The basic structure reuses levels you've completed in the main mode but you can place objects as you like, set behaviour of the NPCs you drop in and create your own scenarios. Combined with the ability to share levels locally or online this provides a wealth of player generated extra content. There were some limits I wasn't happy with, like I couldn't seem to design a level to make a starite appear upon completing an objective, but there is still some good tools in here.

I would love to keep singing the praises of this game, because I really do want to love Scribblenauts. Unfortunately, I can't. While this game certainly offers an experience like no other, there are significant problems in the gameplay itself.

The controls are the worst of it and are best described as appalling. Some nutter at the development studio had the insane idea that putting virtually all the controls onto the touch screen was a good idea. Tap somewhere on the screen and Maxwell moves to that location. However, there are two problems with this. First is that you also use the touchscreen to grab objects and move them about, and some items have a really small size which means that you can accidentally run headfirst into a lava pit trying to grab onto a length of chain you've just summoned. The second issue is that the movement itself is horrid. Maxwell doesn't just move to where you tap, he runs at full speed at it, even if the target destination is literally one step away. Combined with a total lack of traction this means that he actually runs past the destination and then dashes back to it. So, for example, if you're trying to edge closer to a bottomless pit you are more likely to dive into it. I've lost count of the number of times I've died because Maxwell decided to launch into whatever hazard I was merely trying to edge closer to. I seriously hope the next game uses buttons for movement because this setup clearly does not work.

It's possible to move the camera with the D Pad, allowing you to scope out the level and giving you the information needed to devise an approach. It works OK, but does have a nasty habit of snapping back to Maxwell rather quickly if you're not keeping the button held down to keep it moving. This is especially problematic when you're trying to set items down away from you and the camera suddenly decides it's had enough. At least it's not as bad as character movement but it is still fairly bad.

The next rather significant problem is that the physics of the ingame objects are seriously weird. There's no "weight" to any object you summon, which results in the bizarre idea that Maxwell can push a huge boulder as easily as if it were a small rock. The point where this becomes a problem is when you accidentally kick something away when you were merely trying to get past it. Crossing a gap by dropping a drawbridge across it sounds like it should work perfectly, but Maxwell is prone to kicking the bridge off when you try to cross it and then subsequently follow it down whatever hole he just kicked it into. You'll also find oddities like cars that flip very easily or helicopters that can somehow end up upsidedown. It can make things a bit frustrating when things that should work don't.

The audio is mostly irritating at best. The music almost sounds like it was dragged out of the 8 bit console days and comes across as really basic, repetitive and completely lacking in spark. It seems like a select few tracks are recycled endlessly and it does nothing to boost the experience. Their are some neat sound effects in play, like the hoorays of NPCs when they get what they want, but they can't really offset the terrible music.

At the very least I can appreciate the visual on offer. While you won't find hi-definition light shows or anything like that, this game brings its own distinct style to the table. Everything in this make believe world looks like it was made using model kits and movement almost looks like they are marionettes dancing along to the will of the puppetmaster. It expresses the whole point of the game perfectly that more "sensible" graphics probably couldn't manage.

For the most part the variation is fantastic. Trees don't just use one single sprite across them all, as oak and willow have visual differences, and it is great to see them go that extra mile. While it happens, it is rarer to see different objects share the same sprite. Then there are all the little touches added in. Watching the panicked reactions of a criminal when you set a dragon in front of him is absolutely priceless, for example.

In all it somewhat leaves Scribblenauts as an odd title. I can't honestly say it is a great game because it has some glaring flaws that would get any other title lynched, but at the same time I find the sheer experience of creating almost whatever you want to be something all gamers should dabble in. That's basically going to be my verdict - there are significant flaws to work around but there's nothing quite like this and it manages to do just enough to justify playing it.

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0 thumbs!
ellipsis Dec 1, 12
This is really a great game... but is could be awesome if they had done the controls differently. I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to have it almost entirely done on the touch screen.
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