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Scribblenauts Hands-On Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:14pm 08/07/09 | Comments
Scribblenauts is one of the most refreshing puzzle games in a long time. We went hands-on with the game, read on for our thoughts...

"I'm going to give you three attempts," says the Warner Interactive demoer on-hand at E3. What he's referring to is Scribblenauts, and my three attempts involve beating the game by coming up with a word it won't have imbued in its databanks. Its databanks you see, are full of descriptive words that can be turned into physical objects. So, for example, if you write "Goat" a goat will appear on-screen. If you wrote, Coca-Cola though, you'd get nowhere.

Attempting to think outlandishly then, my first word was "Nebula" and lo and behold, a mini nebula appeared on-screen. Okay, how about "black hole"? Sure enough, there it is, in all its tiny DS pixelated glory. Our third attempt was just as shunted by the game (I can't actually remember what it was), but the one thing that came from this was whoever had to create all of these objects within the game must have hated their job.

So this is the part where you ask what the point is. Sure there're plenty of words there, and being stumped on beating out the game would be fun... for a few minutes, but it's not very tangible right? Wrong. The concept here is one of simplistic brilliance - you're presented with short puzzles in a 2D environment, with a little avatar who needs to get from point A to point B; represented by traversing obstacles, grabbing objects, defeating various impediments and so forth. It's puzzle-solving where you're creativity is the key point.

Need to get across a crevice? Type in "Bridge" and voila! Need to retrieve something from a tree? Type "Fishing pole" and cast away! And you're limited only by the object's physical usefulness, meaning you can try anything you can think of against any puzzle in the game at all.

Obviously they're not always going to work and as I played through the game, these puzzles became a lot harder, and quite quickly I might add, leaving me to think there's going to be some serious life here (especially for puzzle aficionados).

The goal of the game, like so many other Nintendo titles, is to collect stars. Actually, here they're called "Starites", but they're the driving currency in the game, and it's through the desire to grab them emergent puzzles form. You move your avatar (named Maxwell) in typical side-scrolling fashion until a Starite appears and you're charged with figuring out how to grab it.

Given the diverse nature of the game, and clear non-ageist puzzle formation, there's an inbuilt spellchecker that offers words close to whatever has been misspelled or misinterpreted by the user. Moreover, puzzles can even be solved with combinations of items, meaning you could literally tie a carrot to a string on a pole to lead a horse to water – the extent of all of this is, as mentioned above, entirely up to the player's imagination and ability to think outside-the-box.

There are some 220 sectioned levels and items on offer in the databanks are in the tens of thousands (or so we're told). You can call upon as many as you want, but in keeping with challenge you're often required to solve puzzles using only a handful of items – though there is a Free Play mode that allows you to just run free.

A cool thing we learned, was the ability to replay any level you've already completed, only on the next play through the player isn't allowed to use any item they did prior. This will clearly keep players on their toes thinking about newer ways to approach old situations, and is a clear indication the game's developer, 5th Cell, are confident in the amount of stuff they've thrown into the database for you to use to broach the game's brain busters.

Rewards will come in the form of in-game currency to buy new avatars and other customisation tools, which will likely only appeal to the younger crowd, but there's definitely an approach here that is anything but kiddie, and if you can look past the simple interface and visual package, you're going to find a deeply compelling and rewarding puzzle game replete with all the cerebral and visceral gameplay you could ask for, and portable to boot.

Currently Scribblenauts is due for release this September through Warner Interactive and is the brainchild of 5th Cell, the same development studio that gave us Drawn to Life and Lock's Quest. You can find more info and media directly from our Scribblenauts game page right here on AusGamers.