E3 2009, there were plenty of ups and downs, and if you were an avid follower of the press, one game seemed to get more publicity than it rightfully deserved. That game? Scribblenauts. The higher-end news media would have you believe that it was the “Best in Show”, but now that the game is out, what can really be said about Scribblenauts?
Scribblenauts’ concept is worthy of the high praise that was bestowed upon it. The idea is simple – craft a puzzle game that requires creative, out-of-the-box problem solving, and require the use of 22,000 “unique” words that can be typed into the game and transformed into objects usable by the main character. Puzzle challenges come in either story or just pure challenge flavors.
The game requires creative solving of puzzles to win “ollars”, or the in-game currency that can then be used to open new levels and play new challenges. Sounds good, right?
Unfortunately for the developer, the entire concept of the game seems to have been built around an idea that is unworkable on the DS using exclusively the stylus and touch capabilities. Everything about the gameplay is inadequate in some way, and in particular cases (read: walking, jumping, running) the “quirks” are so egregious that you can barely play through the challenges.
For example, every story level requires the pickup of a star-shaped object that then allows you to complete the level. In one particular case, a piece of wood needs to be lifted up so that the string connected to it that’s then in turn connected to the star object.
After 20 successive tries, I finally had to put the game down out of frustration and pick it back up later. The main problem is that the stylus isn’t precise enough to move object around on the screen without making the main character move around and fall into the most precariously placed holes and ditches. In that particular level, I managed to lift the piece of wood every time, but whenever I went to retrieve the star, the main character would fall into the hole with piranhas in it.
Further compounding the problem of lack of precision is the fact that some objects work much better than others, stifling the creativity the game wants you to display so much. For instance, it’s often times much easier to kill something in a level with a sword or axe than it is with a gun thanks to the horrible accuracy on the guns. The main character wasn’t able to hit a bear with a sniper rifle unless he moved right up next to it. Also, some objects are just pure nonsense included in the game just for kicks and giggles – case in point, there are Robot Zombies in the game, which are just zombies with a robotic look to them. Atomic bombs can be detonated in the level, but I have tried every way possible to defend against them and the deaths just keep on coming.
The most inspired points in the game are when you try writing “Teleporter” or “Time Machine” and the whole level changes based on that. You’ll be transported to a whole new level that just exists for the fun of it.
Let there be no doubts here – when reporters start throwing the words “quirky” and “charm” around that usually means the graphics are abysmal, and Scribblenauts is no exception. The graphics are only decently fine because of the huge amount of words that can be written in, but even then, the cars, jetpacks, dinosaurs, and time machines just look terrible on screen.
The main character looks disjointed and so do all the other characters in the game. And the scenery leaves much to be desired in the form of attention to detail. While the challenges themselves are often interesting enough, the lack of decent graphics means this DS game will not be selling nearly as well as something like Mario and Luigi, which has great, first-party graphics.
Scribblenauts is the type of game that shows just how horrible a wasted concept could be. Scribblenauts could easily be game of the year if it had executed its idea as well as it sold it at E3 earlier this year. This wasted potential is what drags the game down so far. Had they chosen a dedicated D-Pad to move the main character around, the game would’ve been infinitely better. If you have $35 to spare this year, you could pick up this game, or you could just save up for much better games – like Brutal Legend, Uncharted 2, or if you’re into DS games, the excellent Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.
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