Scribblenauts (a review)

Every once in a while a game comes along that challenges everything that game before it.  Simply put:  Scribblenauts is one of those games.  So original, so unusual, so never-done-before that even if it was lousy, it’d still deserve a permanent place in video game history.  But Scribblenauts does not suck.  In fact, it’s a damn fine game.

Scribblenauts is for Nintendo DS, and it shows that once again, the most innovative gaming system on the market isn’t found in your living room, but in your pocket.  Really, the DS continues to shine.  So much so that I just don’t see the point in buying any other system myself.  The DS proves that it’s not the hardware that makes a great game (although it is a well-designed system), but the software behind it.  And nowhere is that more obvious than in Scribblenauts.

Okay, okay.  “Get on with it,” you’re probably saying.  What is it about Scribblenauts that makes it so cool?  And that’s where it gets tricky because Scribblenauts is not a game easily categorized because it is its own category.

The basic premise of the game is that you’re collecting special starites.  You do this by solving puzzles or navigating simple levels.  This isn’t what makes the game cool.  What makes it cool is that you achieve this goal by creating a variety of objects on the fly.  “What kind of objects?” you ask.

Pretty much anything you can imagine.  All you have to do is write down a word, and POOF it appears.  The vocabulary of the game is absolutely immense.  If you can think of it, the odds are that it is in the game.  Using this nearly unlimited tool of your imagination, you can achieve your goal in almost any way.

An example might be clearer.  In one level, a cat is atop a house.  Your goal is to get the cat down to the waiting girl.  Here are just some of the solutions I’ve employed.

1) Write LADDER.  Use it to climb up and pick up the cat.
2) Write FISH.  Give the fish to the girl.  Cat jumps down.
3) Write MOUSE.  Put the mouse on the ground.  Cat jumps down.
4) Write FIRE.  Set house ablaze.  Cat jumps down.
5) Write BAZOOKA.  Blow up house.  Cat jumps down.
6) Write TRAMPOLINE.  Jump up and pick up cat.
7) Write PEGASUS.  Ride winged horse up to pick up cat.

…and these are just a few of the solutions possible.  I’m sure there are many more.  The only way to “master” a level on advanced mode is to complete it 3 different ways, using different objects every time.

Lest you think all the solutions are this easy, I’m still working on figuring out many of the levels.  Although a game like this isn’t about difficulty, but imagination and novelty.  The title screen acts as a sandbox-style default where you can just throw all sorts of ideas together.  The fun at first is seeing if you can outsmart the game by thinking of something it isn’t ready for.  While it’s possible to end up with something a little different than you expected, it is really unusual to draw a complete blank.  And often, the game will surprise you with its attention to detail.  This is a game that knows there’s a difference between a T-rex and an allosaurus.  And if you’re wondering if there’s a big difference between a regular devil and the fabled Jersey Devil, this game will assure you that indeed there is.

Chupacabra, Cthulhu, Tank, Flamethrower, Forest, Machinegun, Yeti, Bigfoot, Ghost, Wraith, Zombie, Ghoul, Sword, Castle, Apartments, Mall, Skyscraper, Kracken, Skateboard, Butler, Fairy.  This is just a small sampling of random words that I’ve created either to solve a level or just for fun.  And here’s where I draw the strangest comparison in any game I’ve ever played.

Scribblenauts reminds me of Colorforms.  Am I the only one who remembers these things?  You get a simple background and apply reusable sticky images to create scenes.  I had a big Smurf Coloforms set when I was a kid, and I loved it.  I even did my own Do-It-Yourself Colorform with paper, scissors, dinosaurs, and double-sided tape.  And now, my Colorform joy is back in this handy little game.

Maybe I’ll craft my own little city.  Or I’ll design my own dinosaur park.  Or maybe I’ll just pit Cthulhu against wave after wave of werewolves.  Whatever strikes my fancy.  This alone would probably make the game worthwhile, but there is actually a challenging game here as well.

Will you love Scribblenauts?  I can’t guarantee that.  It’s too bizarre, too unusual for easy comparisons.  But this is a game that almost deserves to be bought just because it is so fascinating and unique.  Or not.  Ultimately, if the idea sounds interesting to you, then it’s probably worth checking out.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted September 30, 2009 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I love this game too! I like making things fight each other, Cthulu versus God was fun.

    I’ve got a bunch of other DS games right now that are taking up my time – the new Mario & Luigi game, Peggle, Big Bang Mini – all great games.

    Gamefly is a god send when it comes to trying games out. Right now I have the Mario & Luigi which is great fun if you like RPGs, probably is even if you don’t! And I just got Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor – but I haven’t started that yet.

    The DS is a great system.

  2. A. Lee Martinez
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I think the new Bowser’s Inside Story is next on my DS purchas list. I’ll have to check out Peggle, Big Bang Mini while I’m at it. Thanks for the recommendations.

  3. Tyler
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Yea I love the ds. So many games coming out.

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