by Keaton Arksey, reviewed on
Starting with a Blank Slate
Every so often a game comes along that shatters the basic conception of what a game can be. It proves that new ideas can be executed without having to rely on a pre-existing IP. It is so unique that it is difficult to explain what exactly is so unique about it. Scribblenauts is one of those games.
Developed by 5th Cell, developers of the Drawn to Life series, and published by WB Games, Scribblenauts won various accolades at this year's E3 event. It beat out the likes of God of War III, Mass Effect 2, and Modern Warfare 2 to win several Game of Show titles. Needless to say, the hype train became enormous. Aside from a few issues, Scribblenauts is easily one of the best DS games to come out this year.
Comparing Scribblenauts to any other game is a futile effort, but it is similar to the classic Super Mario 64 in that you travel through a variety of worlds collecting Starites. At its heart, it is a platformer, but puzzle solving definitely makes up the meat of the game. In Scribblenauts you take control of Maxwell, a rooster hat wearing character that can't really do anything. He doesn't punch or kick and he can't kill enemies by jumping on their head. Luckily, Maxwell can make things appear out of thin air. At any time during gameplay you can press an icon at the top right of the touch screen and bring up a keyboard. Here you can type anything you wish, and it will appear in the game world. Dog? Check. Keyboard? Yep. Halfling? Of course. Keyboard Cat? You're trying too hard, but it even has that. If it is in the game's database of over 22,000 words, it will show up on screen. There are some limitations, such as names, vulgar subjects, locations, and copyrighted material, but you probably won't need to resort to that.
To put the vocabulary to the test, I ran the game through a word test. Of all the words that would keep the game at E10+ rating (meaning no beer), it had something appear. Shoelace, Tornado, Liger, and Unicorn are all things that appear in the game. It is astounding just how deep it goes. It even has the Large Hadron Collider (which kills you if you use it).
The majority of the game is puzzle solving, where there is a goal Maxwell must achieve in order to get a starite. With over 100 levels, there are a variety of puzzles to solve. You will usually get a small hint telling you what to do in the level to begin, such as “Bull in a China Shop” where you have to destroy all the china in a level. There are often a variety of ways to achieve the goal. In one level, you have to force a character into a pool of water as they jump on a diving board. Now, you could type “fan” and place it on the edge, where it will blow the person into the water, or alternatively you could just type “rope” or “cable” and attach one end to Maxwell and the other to the jumper and pull them into the water.
Then there are levels that are a bit more complex, such as one where you have to reunite a knight and his princess, but the princess is on another level and a Behemoth (a large dog like creature) and a witch are in the way. While you could summon something to kill the two enemies, you are given the rule that you can't harm the witch. First, you summon something to kill the Behemoth, such as God, Satan, Cthulu, Dragon, Basilisk, or you try and take it out with Maxwell by equipping yourself with a shotgun, RPG, assault rifle, or nuke. Once that is done, you have to get up to the level of the princess. This can be done with something like wings or a jetpack. You can place something in the witch's way, like say a ship freighter to keep her from attacking you, attach a cable to the princess, and fly her back to the knight. This is only one example, and you can do this any way you want. There is a good difficulty curve, and some of the later levels can give you a headache, so be prepared to think outside the box. I can't stress it enough that there are hundreds of unique ways to solve the puzzles.
A unique, charming experience unlike anything you have ever seen before.
Some items look the same as others. Control issues get in the way.