Review: Scribblenauts (DS)September 24th, 2009 | Written by Josh Schwartzman | Topic: Nintendo DS, Reviews
The human mind is capable of thinking up the most imaginative objects and until recently games have been limited as to how far players can truly express their creativity. While some games are getting more involved with player interaction with created characters, features and more, Scribblenauts truly shines by allowing players to type in any word that is on their mind and use the object that pops up in any way they see fit. While offering over 20,000 objects for you to interact with is astounding, it’s quite baffling to note the sheer amount of repetitiveness that plagues Scribblenauts during each mission and how hard it is to move around and interact with all the objects on screen. Despite these shortcomings, the truly imaginative minds will see Scribblenauts as a chance to play games in a way never experienced before.
Scribblenauts has over 20,000 words at your disposal and it is amazing to see some of the crazy, and often obscure, words you can think of. While the first time you use the notepad to type in a word will undoubtedly result in objects like ball, shoe, and other elementary school words, we took it upon ourselves to truly see how far the game’s vocabulary stretched. Surprised to us, the game successfully created objects for the words “catamount”, “halberd”, “trireme”, “xabeque”, and “Archaeopteryx” (if you don’t know what these are, try them out yourselves for a little surprise!). In any case, any item your mind can think up is probably in the game and as long as you follow the basic rules (no proper name, copyrighted words, etc) you can probably bring it to life right before your eyes.
Before you jump into the missions portion of the game, try your hand at the opening title screen. Here you can practice at your heart’s content and type in words to see their physical interpretations. Many of the items in the game can be interacted with (such as using shovels to dig, guns to shoot) but placing objects of the same nature could lead to interesting results. For example, one time we typed in an astronaut and watched him meander around the screen, after which we typed in space shuttle and watched him casually walk to it, hop in, and fly away. All of the humans and animals in the game will have icons appear above their heads that let them know their mood, whether it be sad, hungry, or happy. Noting their mood could be key in thinking of an item to make them change their behavior and completing tasks. Typing up “knight” gave us a sad armored soldier, and after we typed up “sword” and “shield” and gave them to him he was soon very happy and started attacking everything in sight.
There is no story in Scribblenauts; instead players are tasked with collecting starites in each of the game’s worlds. These starites are keys to successful completion of each level and players need to solve clues in order to find and collect them. Because seeking out and finding starites seems boring, each world has a range of ten action missions set to make you think your way through the level and ten puzzle maps that require you to complete any objective given to you. You can switch back between action and puzzle maps anytime you wish and each world offers up specific objects and surroundings for you to use to your advantage.
While playing through these missions was fun, we couldn’t help but notice the lack of creativity in the later stages. Many of the action missions require the same technique of breaking down walls, flying or swimming over obstacles and pressing a switch to successfully grab the starite. Sure you can think of dozens of objects to draw up and help you, but we only ever thought of a handful to use over and over again which kind of defeats the purpose of the game. Maybe it is due to our lack of creativity, but perhaps a more diverse set of level designs and objectives would have kept our mind buzzing with more ideas. The puzzle missions often became irritating in later missions mainly because everything played out the same, such as thinking of items a cook would need to make a pizza, but they put weird obstacles in your path like dogs that can attack you for no apparent reason.
Despite these shortcomings, some of the missions have some unique choices that can let you think of the most farfetched objects to help you out. One part needed us to reach a high ledge, so instead of creating a plane and flying on top, we typed in Pegasus and watched as the winged horse safely carried us up. Still, these segments occur about one out of every ten maps, and it is not enough to intrigue us after playing through the same maps over and over again.
Because of the nature of everyone simply typing in anything that comes to mind, a budget meter that appears on the top screen will let you know how close you are to filling up the screen with objects before you have to get rid of them. A par meter also lets you know how many objects should be needed for successful completion and similar to golf, using less items will net you more “ollars”, the games currency, which can be used to unlock new levels and items. Ollars can also be earned if you become stylish with your object choices, for example not using a boat to get across the water but hopping on a dolphin and having him take you across instead.
Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues Scribblenauts besides its repetitive nature of the missions is the control scheme. In order to move, users have to drag the stylus to a point on the screen and watch their player move to that position. Characters on screen also jump by themselves over ledges and fly or swim up and down based on where you are touching. The problem with this scenario is that both the D Pad and the X, Y, A, and B buttons are used for rotating the camera. A more rounded movement system, possible with the D Pad, would have been a lot more helpful when you are trying to click on items but unintentionally move to a spot near an item. Tricky situations that require you to interact with animals or humans can become frustrating due to this confusing control scheme. Games don’t need eight separate buttons to rotate the camera, and it is a shame Scribblenauts relies too heavily on the stylus for movement and interaction when the typing interface is so simple and easy to use.
Artistically, Scribblenauts’ style is beautiful and every character has its own distinct style and look. The objects all look as if they were casually drawn seconds before and the way some objects interact with one another is a clever feat. With nearly 20,000 objects, it is often amazing to see every animal look as it would to its real-life counterpart, and even the most ferocious animals, such as dinosaurs, all look child-like in nature to please any age of gamer. The music is charming enough to keep you entertained for a short term basis, but after grudging through the missions you will soon hear plenty of familiar sounds and clicking noises. A little more diversity would have been nice, but it should be noted the basis of Scribblenauts is not on how the game sounds, but how it looks.
While there is a lot to love in Scribblenauts, many of the faults hinder it from being nothing more than a quick pick-me-up on a day when you just feel like goofing around. The title screen alone offers up more fun than the missions portray and the clunky controls will only leave those impatient gamers reeling from the inconsistent layout. Scribblenauts is a brilliant idea that offers up plenty of fun for anyone with a creative mind, and despite some technical flaws, is well worth a sit-down for anyone looking to have a good time.