Think it, write it, see it. That was the premise of 2009's Scribblenauts, which turned a 20,000-word dictionary into a puzzle-solving toolkit. This year it returns with adjectives to prove the pen is a mighty, giant, flaming magic sword.
Super Scribblenauts is the sequel to 2009's Scribblenauts, which won wide acclaim and peals of delight for its open-ended capacity to generate, on written command, any of more than 20,000 persons, places or things to help your protagonist resolve more than 200 visual puzzles. This year, Super Scribblenauts brings 120 new puzzles to the same concept while introducing some 9.000 adjectives, which infuse your summoned items with the properties or behavior expected of the descriptor.
Kids, the young at heart, crossword or other puzzle enthusiasts form a wide bullseye for Super Scribblenauts' target. Though some of the puzzles may come off a little young, those with an easily piqued sense of curiosity, creativity and/or humor will still get plenty from Super Scribblenauts, regardless of age.
Scribblenauts was one of 2009's most novel titles - on any platform - that won praise for fulfilling an incredibly ambitious design goal. This edition has the benefit of the splash created by last year's game, but now must live up to expectations that it didn't face. With just a year since the previous version, is it more than just a new set of puzzles?
So what's the big, slimy, colossal, frightening, shiny deal with these adjectives? Unfortunately, the adjective I'd give to the adjectives is, actually, "optional." Can you summon a leprous Aristotle? Certainly! I generated a colossal robot supermodel and a slice of zombie pizza that, I suppose, behaved exactly like undead party food. But most of the puzzles are so straightforward as to make this capability semi-relevant at best, with the exception of the dedicated adjective levels, which are helpfully announced as such. It's not to say the adjectives add nothing. But when they're less than essential in the game's basic puzzles, and the correct modifiers are glaringly obvious in others, they minimally advance the create-anything aura that made the original game such a delight.
Fine, fine, but a new set of puzzles with better controls is still a step up. Last year's controls were frustrating. Fifth Cell heard you loud and clear and now there are two methods - the old stylus control, which many hated for its imprecise movements and now a D-pad and button control that makes Maxwell respond more like a traditional video game character. These are useful in the two special clusters of challenges, which are more action- than puzzle-oriented. But surprisingly, the stylus is better suited to some later levels than the D-pad controls. (I'm thinking specifically of a sleeping dragon for whom giant earmuffs are no use, and tottering piles of treasure which large pillows cannot cushion. There is apparently no creative or whimsical solution to this. You just have to fly around it all precisely.)
Ah, the good old jetpack. Can you still get out of everything with that, a lasso and Cthulhu? No, actually. Flight of any type (think "subatomic wings" to reduce your sprite hit detection) is still most useful, but I never summoned God once and found cosmic entities to be rather unhelpful given the tightly focused objectives of the puzzles. While the level design, mindful of these dei ex machina, preserves the challenge, it also reflects the somewhat restrictive nature of this year's game. It's strange, but you'll still get into trouble when you either read the situation too literally or when you place too much faith into the physical characteristics of the inanimate objects. Despite the wide-open promise of its deep dictionary, Super Scribblenauts' best solution is always the simplest, and the simplest is sometimes utterly counterintuitive. To wit: I took down a dragon with a "freezing flamethrower" [see video below.]
Well, that doesn't sound like fun. Don't get me wrong. This has its moments. Given a stethoscope and asked to predict a young boy's career ambitions, I tapped out "safecracker" and was delighted to get the "ding!" sound effect. The game still rewards creative thinking; you just have to think in the direction intended by the designer. Cause an extinction of dinosaurs without asteroids? Hello ebola. Ding! Solving a puzzle once is just the beginning; you may go back and complete it two and three times for additional points and honors, using different words. These things still have multiple solutions, even if the first is obvious.
The only thing like Super Scribblenauts is Scribblenauts, and if you don't have either, this is a top flight puzzle game on a platform built for the best of the genre. For kids, especially middle-schoolers, it's a zany challenge that any parent would be delighted to watch or play along with after dinner. It has recognizably educational moments. But for older gamers, especially those who have the original Scribblenauts, the new batch of challenges and the upgrade in controls are not enough to overcome the tight, sometimes simplistic puzzle design and recreate the gee-whiz feeling that sparked the original.
Super Scribblenauts was developed by Fifth Cell and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the Nintendo DS, released on October 12. Retails for USD$29.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all 10 main "constellations" of puzzles to completion.