Review By Steve Farrelly @ 01:29pm 09/10/09
So there's a tree and a lumberjack in front of you and you're tasked with helping him do his job, which is a basic hint that you need to hook him up with a saw or an axe. But rather than do that, I gave him a shotgun to see if he'd try and shoot the tree down. No dice. Okay, what if I throw a protester in there? Uh oh, the protester has climbed the tree in an act of selfless environmentalism and I've armed a red-neck with a weapon... what you would expect to ensue does.
Thus is the chaotic, yet simple life of Scribblenauts - a game where gameplay is based around your puzzle-solving wits, creativity and devious sense of humour.
In any scenario, type "God", and lo and behold the [supposed] creator turns up, but type in "Devil" and the two go at it like crazy (God has won every round so far). There are other options too, such as typing "teleporter" which in various scenarios will take you to odd places (sometimes even alien planets), or "time-machine", which saw me landing in the prehistoric age. It really is all up to your own imagination, and the lengthy processes of tying such an expanded concept together in cartoony 2D visual form, which developer 5th Cell have done here brilliantly given the platform, just creates a world of opportunity unlike any other.
The game's premise is simple: use your imagination to conjure objects for the game's protagonist, Maxwell, to overcome various obstacles or solve puzzles. You can't use any profanity, anything labelled or copyrighted (you can't type "coke" for example) and you have to stay in the realm of decency (at least as far as the game keeps you away from it, which if you're creative enough, isn't actually too far at all). Like most Nintendo games, Scribblenauts is all about collecting Stars(ites), well "Starites", which then go towards opening up new worlds for you (cleverly named in Mario fashion as World 1-1, 1-2 and so on). Clearly the further you progress, the more difficult Maxwell's challenges become and you'll be tasked with combining conjured objects to create outlandish and creative new ways in which to reach your goal. You're also rewarded for style, time, whether or not you've just used an all-new object, if you saved characters or introduced violence ala weapons or enemies, and so on. You can also revisit levels in an attempt to clear them three times never using the same gear twice, giving you even more clout and all-important creative bragging rights.
There's also veritable level editor involved here, which again comes out best when you use what I've consistently referred back to throughout this review - "creativity". Scribblenauts really is that game setting the best example for user-generated content, only in its own instance, said content is instrumental to gameplay, crafting a compelling experience that empowers you to think along the sorts of lines you would hope to when facing in-game challenges (obviously within reason), but it's a bold and ardent step for a small developer, and an even bolder (and smarter) move for a publisher like Warner Bros. Interactive to jump on board with.
With all of that said though, there is a reasonable amount of frustration you'll need to be ready to deal with. For one, not everything works the way it's suppose to. In the instance I mentioned earlier regarding helping out the lumberjack, I fit the tree with dynamite but couldn't actually hand off the match to the lumberjack to set it off, and throughout the game, there are moments like this - you wish would work - that simply don't, for whatever reason, gel. There's also the frustration in the largely loose controls which are pretty much the game's biggest let-down.
You control Maxwell, and everything else in the game, with the stylus. Now that might sound fairly easy, but it's not, because the game itself, becomes confused with your own actions. And this isn't simply a case of me not being any good at it, because everyone in my household (all hardcore gamers), also had the problem. The camera can be moved with the D-Pad, but for whatever reason, it almost immediately snaps back to wherever Maxwell is, making it difficult to access the situation and conjure accordingly. Moreover, precision can become the cause of suicide. Attempting to catch a piranha with a fishing rod, for example, might actually lead to Maxwell jumping in the dangerous waters only to be eaten and killed by said piranha. And all because you couldn't select the fish properly (or because the game's precision selection just isn't all that great).
There's also the problem with consistency. Or the game's serious lack of. It's true you're able to pretty much craft anything you can think of, which in itself is a big enough distraction from the puzzles on-hand, but it never helps that for the first few full worlds, you're not really exercisiong your cranial cavity too much. Then, oddly, the game will jump to near impossible scenarios that should become a Nobel Prize category for competent completion.
Which leaves Scribblenauts as something of an odd package. On the one hand you have this incredibly brave and ardent game - an experience unlike anything else you've ever played, and something worth your time for the sheer concept alone. And on the other, you have a truly broken gameplay experience, in the traditional sense of the concept of "gameplay". There's plenty of fun to be had here, and it really must be experienced, just be prepared for crummy controls, inconsistent levels of challenge and a brick wall in true gameplay compulsion, once the novelty has somewhat worn off (which really will take some time, anyway).
Scribblenauts is amazing fun for the pure leap forward it is in the way of innovation and uniqueness, but somewhat challenging in its longevity beyond your initial pause at its creative goals.