Scribblenauts, the Video Game that Seems Like a Magic Trick, is Pretty Good on iOSS

The premise and the promise of Scribblenauts always was extraordinary: write any noun (concrete noun, no proper names) into the game and the virtual object it represents will appear.

If it can be used, your hero can use it. If it has a brain, it will act—and interact with whatever else is in the world.

Dog, cat, hot air balloon, merman, slug, disease, politician, pencil, lectern.... go on, the game's creators encouraged players, try to stump it and watch how all of that stuff co-exists (or destroys each other). Then came the Scribblenauts sequel, which added adjectives. Those aforementioned nouns? Make them red or striped or friendly or whatever else. Really, now, try to stump it.

The first two Scribblenauts were big hits on the Nintendo DS. The newest one, out today for iOS gizmos, is, as its title suggests, a Scribblenauts Remix. It's as hard to stump as ever, but for series veterans and newcomers, there are a few more things you need to know.

  • 20% Brand-New Scribblenauts The game is broken up into challenge levels, each of which require you to conjure whatever things you can think of to help the game's hero, Maxwell, collect a star (sample challenges: make the dinosaurs go extinct without using a weapon or asteroid; populate a school with school things; help a witch brew a love potion; get something out of a tall tree). There are 50 of these levels, 40 of which are from the DS games. The other 10 are new to iPhone/iPad/iTouch. Whatever you think of that ratio, take it from me that simply messing around in the game's title screen, where you can just freely conjure anything, is worth the game's asking price... unless you don't care to conjure a dragon, an amoeba, a rabbit and boulder to see how they interact with each other. (Hint: conjure a "friendly dragon", lest you want Maxwell to get fried.)

  • Controls... it's always the controls. Magical as the first Scribblenauts was, its stylus-only controls were awkward. It could be hard to precisely maneuver Maxwell without accidentally grabbing a nearby object or vice versa. The DS sequel remedied this and, thankfully, the iOS touch-based controls work very well... except in one case. Maxwell's movement is fine. You touch either side of the screen to make him run that way. Typing nouns into a text entry screen is great using the standard iOS keyboard. Moving objects around with the touch screen is good, too, as is the game's two-finger-swipe camera control. The lone control issue I found is that you will have trouble seeing through your fingers, something you'll wish you could do when you have to pick up a slug that's smaller than your fingertip and drop it into a witch's cauldron, which is also smaller than your fingertip. This issue is the only one that made me miss the slender point of the DS' stylus. If you're trying to move something tiny that you've conjured, you'll be playing blind, relying only on your sense that's what is under your finger is there, though you can't see it. Hopefully the game will be updated with a magnifying option similar to the one used in iOS' native text-editing tools, but there's nothing like that at launch.
  • Bombers aren't good at opening piñatas. I mean, sure, the bomb they drop will cause an explosion that might break the piñata open, but the bomb also kills a bunch of people in the process. Try something else to get through that level.

Scribblenauts Remix is a good and relatively inexpensive ($5) conversion to iOS. The game looks sharper than it did on the DS and has been built to support the new iOS 5, which launches on the same day (today) as the game... so expect cloud save support that will maintain your progress across any iPhones, iPads and iTouches you have. More exciting is the prospect of an easily-updated Scribblenauts. While the DS had not supported software updates, iOS does. A game like this is made to be bolstered with added levels, words and tweaks to any troubling issues. Hopefully it will receive that support. It deserves it.

Scribblenauts Remix [$4.99, iTunes]