Your vocabulary is your power in Scribblenauts, 5th Cell's innovative new puzzle game for the Nintendo DS in which write makes might.
We've been enthralled by the concept of Scribblenauts since we first received word of the game in December of last year. Your goal is simple: help Maxwell collect the Starite in each level to proceed to the next. The way you accomplish this goal, however, is where the fun kicks in. By writing words in the lower portion of the DS screen, the associated object appears, allowing you to use it to overcome obstacles standing between Max and his star.
If you're like us, you had high hopes for Scribblenauts. This little DS game represents something revolutionary not just for the DS's library, but also (we're being serious) for videogames as a whole. Forgive us if we sound hyperbolic here, but Scribblenauts is one of the most important games to come out this year. Which makes it all the more disappointing that it doesn't quite live up to its potential.
The best part of Scribblenauts is using the massive dictionary to come up with all sorts of wacky ideas. Sure, you could ride a horse from one side of the screen to the other, but why settle for something so mundane? If you have a saddle and a mind-control device handy, you can summon Cthulhu to be your noble steed. When a herd of dinosaurs are bumming you out, you can call forth a superhero to put them in their place, infantilize them with a shrink ray, or just drop a meteor from the sky to trigger a convenient extinction-level event. This creativity is present in the many puzzles as well. In one level, you must transport three deceased criminals from the purgatory in which they currently reside to the pearly gates of heaven. You could construct a bridge between the two eternal planes, but why go through that trouble when an all-forgiving god will absolve them of their sins and transport them to the promised land?
When Scribblenauts is working the way it should, it is an undeniable blast. But unfortunately, this game's skies are not always sunny. The touch-based character controls are touchy to the point that one miniscule tap on the screen can lead to a stage being restarted or a carefully planned strategy falling apart. Moreover, some of the objects I summoned into the world didn't function the way I thought they would. NPCs also get in the way, blocking your ability to pick up an object. These irksome moments pop up more than I care to see. But in the end, I learned to work around them. It's a bit of a crutch, but if you learn to play it through trial and error, you can manipulate the system to work in your favor.
There are well over two-hundred challenges to complete throughout the campaign of Scribblenauts. Half of these are relatively simple and easy to understand, whereas the other half caters to hardcore and determined players. As you progress through the game, your objectives will become increasingly more difficult, some of which will press you hard for time and quick thinking. This is where the game shines the most as each puzzle is incredibly creative and offers tens, if not hundreds, of ways to complete. There are obvious paths to take, but there are also alternate ways that you may have never considered before.
Sure, there are frustrations here. Control is the first and most glaring problem in the game. Getting Maxwell from one place to another, using the items we provide him with, is an obvious shortcoming of the game. The physics of the game are unstable; sometimes, we can cheat our way through a room just by jumping at something until we slip past it. Scribblenauts isn't perfect; it's just audacious and unique. I wish I could manipulate Maxwell with the D-Pad. But then again, we're not really controlling the child; we're maestros, conducting the orchestra his reality.
While Scribblenauts is a well crafted puzzle game, its real power is its ability to tap into the soul of the Internet. Finally, someone has created something that puts our vast knowledge of the inane and arcane to use. I can proudly say that I know how to vanquish a griffin, what to summon when I'm confronted by Cthulhu, and why a river is handy when facing Nuckelavee, all without looking it up. Embrace your inner geek, pick up this game.
The writing is on the wall...