Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Review - Scribblenauts

  • Game: Scribblenauts
  • Format: Nintendo DS
  • Other Formats: None
  • Developer: 5th Cell
  • Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
  • Genre: Puzzle
The premise of Scribblenauts is simple enough. You control Maxwell, your objective is to find the Starite hidden in each level, to do this you must use the tools at your disposal to overcome the obstacles in your way.

So what are the tools at your disposal? Well, "archaeopteryx", "water pistol", "lepidopterist", "Higgs boson", "giant enemy crab", "ROFLcopter", "El Chupacabra", "wedding dress", "razor", "Anubus", "jiaozi" and the 22,086 other objects that can be summoned from the game's insanely comprehensive vocabulary. It may well be the first game where the Oxford English Dictionary works as a stand-in for GameFAQs.

Somehow, "Cthulhu" seems less frightening after you shoot him with a "mind control device" and start riding around on his back.

There are a few limitations on what you can summon - trademarks are right out obviously, as is anything vulgar and drug or alcohol references. Also if you name a specific person, real or fictional, then you are likely to get nothing (and a good portion of the names included are just redirects to some generic character - "Einstein" gets you a "scientist", "Blackbeard" gives "pirate", and "Leeroy Jenkins" maps to "knight"). Stick within the rules however, and far more often than not you'll find that whatever bizarrely esoteric object you think of has been anticipated by the developers. You can and will stump the dictionary if you try (a few unused words include "hacker", "australopithecus", "man-eating plant", "crocoduck" and "grid"), but the point is that you usually need to actively look for pointlessly obscure nouns to achieve this, leading to the polar opposite of the old "I don't see any 'unlock door' around here" issue that plagued text adventures.

Not only are so many objects and characters included in the game, but they all have their own properties. Throwing a "toaster" in some water will electrocute anything nearby, "rope" can attach any two objects together, and activating the "Large Hadron Collider" will destroy the Universe. What's more, summoning multiple things will often cause them to interact with each other. Summon a "vampire" followed by "garlic bread" and the fiend will run away in terror, likewise "bigfoot" will run from a "photographer" and a "dingo" will eat any "baby" it sees. There are times when the illusion is broken as two items fail to interact in the way you want (one mission asks you to fix a car, but summoning a "mechanic" is no use), but given that there is literally not enough time in a human life to try every combination, 5th Cell probably deserve some leniency on this point.

Here, we see an "elephant" firing a "rocket launcher" at a "separatist". Buy Scribblenauts.

So far, it sounds like game of the forever, but inevitably there are flaws. The biggest problem is the control system which assigns both movement and item interaction to the touch screen. Touch any unoccupied area of the screen and Maxwell will charge over there with no concern for whatever deathtraps may be in his path. This problem is exacerbated by the camera which snaps back if left alone for a few seconds, causing you to miss whatever you were trying to click on.

Another problem is that unsurprisingly some items are almost game-breakingly powerful., to the point that the temptation is to rely on them almost exclusively. Summoning a "black hole" will get anything out of your path, "Death" can easily win just about any combat mission, and a switch-flipping "engineer" can often skip large sections of a level for you. In this case it could be argued that the game only becomes boring if you are boring, and indeed the game becomes a lot more fun if you avoid the quick and easy path to go for more convoluted solutions. Unfortunately this doesn't work for the annoyingly large number of "move object X to position Y" missions. Most of these only have one real solution - drag it over there with a flying vehicle, so the only real choice is what vehicle to use and how to attach object X.

Plan 1: Have a "termite" eat through the bark.
Plan 2: Shoot the tree with a "shrink ray".
Plan 3: "Glue" a "giant squid" to the "space shuttle" and crash it into the Starite.

Still, these flaws aren't enough to spoil a game where "Abraham Lincoln" can zombify "god" using the "Necronomicon". Learn to live with the controls and experiment with alternative solutions, and it really is an experience like no other.


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