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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Scribblenauts
By: | September 26th, 2009 | Nintendo DS
NDS |Review

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The concept behind Scribblenauts seemed like it would be impossible to incorporate so many individual words and objects with their own unique characteristics into a single DS game. Fortunately, Scribblenauts will, more often than not, give an answer to any input from the player amongst the game’s mass of levels.

Unfortunately, the technology behind 5th Cell’s Scribblenauts falls short in evoking the creative genius within us all.

Solving puzzles in Scribblenauts is based on the premise of using any tangible object to retrieve the (occasionally hidden) ‘starite’ to complete the level. There are usually certain constraints within each level, so players can’t simply blaze through them with a machine gun, or use God as a personal bodyguard. Aside from its gigantic dictionary, Scribblenauts also has 12 different locations with 22 levels in each. Unlocking each location is done by purchasing them with ‘ollars’ earned after completing a level.

You earn more ‘ollars’ by completing levels and earning badges. The badges add a further sense of accomplishment, especially when finishing a particularly hard level; knowing that I could have just thrown a hair dryer in the ocean to kill the Kraken instead of taking a submarine is a really satisfying feeling.

For completionists out there, it is possible to finish each level three times using different objects to earn a gold star. It really encourages players to think outside the square. Each location in Scribblenauts is broken into two sections: action and puzzle. It’s in the action levels that Scribblenauts’ technical problems begin to rise, with seemingly easy levels becoming frustratingly only due to the game’s practical limitations.

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Much of these limitations lie in the controls.  Maxwell is controlled by tapping where you would like him to run or what object he should interact with. With all controlling elements being mapped to the stylus, it’s a constant struggle of accidentally selecting objects, deleting them and watching Maxwell running around levels like a madman. This can make the simplest of tasks, such as “get the cat down from the tree,“ turn into a mess of dinosaurs, rockets and firemen.

It feels as if Maxwell is constantly running on ice with the only way to accurately control him is to deliberately tap a location and wait for him to arrive. Its a constraint that makes the later action levels (which occasionally are reliant on time ) a test of control and patience rather than an extent of the game’s list of objects.

Similarly, there is no “jump” button; Maxwell will automatically move up to any reachable height. To be honest, jumping is quite uselsess, as levels are designed in a way which a ladder or jetpack must be used to navigate them. On the other hand, jetpacks have a limited amount of fuel and the ladders are extremely fiddly to use; simply climbing to the top of a level can become a real chore.

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Operating on a ‘2.5D’ playing field, the line between what Maxwell can run into and what is behind him is sometimes blurred, with Maxwell pushing giant weightless objects around the level completely destroying any kind of strategy put in place by the player.

It’s the individual moments where Scribblenauts really shines. Two prettified horses attached to a chariot at the bottom of a hill with a poltergeist chasing them toward a starite can never get old, or more satisfying. Although there are technically 22,802 words in the game, a large amount are copies of the same model eg; big bed, bed and queen bed all produce the same model.

Not to say that a majority of words are just copies, there is still a huge amount of words and objects that beg to be discovered. Although some words won’t behave at all like they should, it’s nice to see that they at least exist. For example, typing in “button pusher” will spawn a character, but they will not actually press any button nearby.

Scribblenauts’ ‘pieced together’ adorable art style is similar to Little Big Planet and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Each object has a real sense of character that complements the tone of Scribblenauts. It encourages the player to “make” their own game. Whether it be a raging Kraken or placid lumber jack, each object has a distinct puppet like appearance, with limbs being held on with pins hanging from strings attached to clouds above. It’s a nice touch that conveys a particular level of detail that 5th Cell has gone to.

Scribblenauts is a game where the sky is the limit: a seemingly unlimited amount of objects and content will have players returning to discover new levels and scenarios. Unfortunately, poor controls and inconsistent physics hinder players from exploring Scribblenauts’ full potential.

Rating Category
8.0 Presentation
Scribblenauts' cute, puppet-like characters all share the same intricate level of polish.
How does our scoring system work?
5.0 Gameplay
The game's Frustrating controls will have Maxwell diving head-first into lava pits before following the simplest of commands.
6.0 Sound
There's nothing too special in the sound department, other than a bouncy and kid friendly soundtrack.
9.0 Longevity
Hundreds of levels and extra content will have those able to master the controls coming back for more.
7.0 Overall
Scribblenauts' amazing amount of content is only let down by the techology that powers it.

  1. Protip: Don’t use ladders or ropes or stairs to climb; just add a pair of wings to your back.

    I got a review copy of the game yesterday and I have to admit I’m loving it so far. The controls are quite fiddly though and I imagine that’s going to become more of a hinderance as I get further into the game.

  2. Great review Chris. I pretty much agree with all of your points, especially the frustrating controls. I enjoy the game so much though that so far I haven’t let the poor controls get me down too much. My girlfriend also gets a big kick out of this game. We typically play it together, and it’s always interesting to see how we’ll both come up with completely different ideas on how to solve the same puzzles.

    @James: Why put wings on your back when it’s much cooler to create a pterodactyl and ride him to whever it is you have to go. :-)

  3. Everything I hear about this game is fantastic. But then I read Penny Arcade and watch the video that Colin puts, and I don’t get excited anymore. Something about being able to solve every puzzle so easily kinda irks me a bit. I know that is not the way the puzzles are supposed to be solved, but the fact that it can be done is not so cool. Guess this is another one I’m Gameflying.

  4. I agree with everything here: the game is an absolute gem, and I love it because its so unique, and stylistic, but it has its fair share of problems.

    Best moment ever: summoning God to fight Dracula, only to have him be turned into Vampire God.

  5. Seems like you have the freedom to do pretty much anything you want, but the technology is just not up to par, as stated in the intro. Great Review.

  6. Great review. As previously stated, I was pretty excited about this game, and still am, though not as much as I was before watching the video that was posted a few days ago. It’s very clear in that video, just how frustrating the controls are.

    Still, I will be getting this game.

  7. Excellent review. I definitely need to pick this up at some point.

  8. avatar scribblman75

    Yeah how do I get the messiah badge in the game!

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