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DS

North America

Scribblenauts

by Nick DiMola - October 2, 2009, 1:58 pm PDT
Total comments: 16

7

This puzzler is a great concept hindered only by its execution.

Scribblenauts was love at first sight. While playing the game for the first time at E3, I couldn't help but think it was one of the greatest and most ambitious ideas I had ever seen. When the game arrived at my house for review, I was still completely enamored. In one challenge, I spawned a time machine, went back in time, filled a bottle with water from a medieval moat, returned to the present, and quenched the thirst of a man in a desert. How could this not be the greatest game I had ever played? Unfortunately, as time went on I found myself less and less impressed with many of the game's concepts.

The game is a puzzle title wherein players perform some sort of designated task depending on the scenario they have launched into. Furthermore, the game has two distinct puzzle types with accompanying modes. The first puzzle type is aptly named, "Puzzle." In this mode, players must perform some task to reveal a Starite, the item that must be collected no matter the mode or level. The second type of puzzle, "Action," shows the Starite on the screen and requires players to work through the level to reach the Starite. Players accomplish their task by spawning items into a stage via an on-screen keyboard.

Each level determines performance based on how many items you use and how intelligently or originally the puzzle is solved. With this approach, players are able to replay any particular level in order to solve it in different ways. In fact, players will need to solve puzzles four different ways in order to receive a gold Starite.

Conceptually, Scribblenauts has the potential to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the execution is plagued with a variety of issues, the most egregious of which are the controls. Maxwell, the game's protagonist, is unbelievably frustrating to control. Interacting with objects seems to always be a challenge, and furthermore, just moving Maxwell around the screen is an exercise in frustration. Because Maxwell essentially follows the stylus on the touch screen, he has a tendency to fly across the screen even when you are just trying to interact with an object.

Another shortcoming is the way Maxwell interacts with many of the objects. While nearly every unlicensed word known to man will spawn an item on the screen, many of these items have no purpose, and some that should have a particular purpose fail to perform that function. For instance, a spear can not be thrown, but instead is used similarly to a baseball bat. In one challenge, I tried to use the spear to impale a piranha that needed to be killed to reveal the Starite. Rather than tossing the spear, Maxwell jumped in the water and was subsequently mauled to death by the piranha. It's these types of issues that make the game feel far less inventive and more limiting.

As players complete more and more of the game's 220 challenges, they will start to recognize patterns of items that tend to work to solve most puzzles. Due to many items not behaving as players suspect, they will often take the path of least resistance, constantly solving the puzzles with the same item set. Unfortunately, this defeats the purpose of the game and puts a damper on the general experience.

Scribblenauts is a game that begs for a sequel. The concept is still unbelievably unique, and the game does offer fleeting moments of genius and fun. A sequel would serve the series well, because it would allow 5th Cell to take their ideas and truly tighten them to the point of perfection. In the meantime, if you are prepared to deal with many annoyances but seek an original and mostly enjoyable play experience, you'll be well served by Scribblenauts.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
9 6 5 7 8 7
Graphics
9

The game's art style is unique, beautiful, and consistent. Given the sheer number of items, it's amazing that each and every one effectively conveys the personality of the title.

Sound
6

Most of the soundtrack is repeated often. Sound effects match their items, but overall, the game's sound is nothing to write home about.

Control
5

Controlling Maxwell is absolutely horrendous. He zips around the screen on a whim and has trouble interacting with objects. The only redeeming feature is that items are easily spawned and moved around the screen with the stylus. It's still amusing that there is no scribbling in Scribblenauts.

Gameplay
7

The core gameplay concepts are fun and engaging, but the game breaks down in the details. Items don't behave as expected, and puzzles are too easily solved by continually using the same objects.

Lastability
8

With 220 levels and a level editor, there is plenty to do. Additionally, players can solve each puzzle four different ways to receive a Gold Star.

Final
7

Scribblenauts is a fun but flawed title. The concepts and ideas shine strong, but the implementation leaves so much to desire that it often impedes enjoyment of the game. Players willing to take a chance on it will find many things to like but will likely finish with it craving a sequel that fixes the many problems.

Summary

Pros
  • Unbelievably unique
  • With the right items, puzzle solving is fun
Cons
  • Spotty controls
  • Unexpected item behavior
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

BlackNMild2k1October 02, 2009

Actually you only need to solve a puzzle 3 different ways to get the gold starite. You just have to do the puzzle four times.
1st time to beat it initially
then 3 more times to get the gold starite, but you can use everything you used the 1st time to beat it in the 3x run.

Other than that, I agree with this review.

I've heard from various sources that the game will not spawn a penis no matter what euphamism you use, so it's dead to me.

Zach, did you bring down AT&T?

vuduOctober 02, 2009

What if you just type sausage and then squint your eyes?

ThomasOOctober 02, 2009

I was completely turned off by Scribblenaut's bad control, which led me to sell it away a week after purchase. Like someone said in the Scribblenauts thread, it felt like I was playing with a prototype, like the controls were thrown in only to get the main idea to work.

Quote from: MegaByte

Zach, did you bring down AT&T?

BRILLIANT!

Jamaican Mario ScholarOctober 02, 2009

Tale as old as time.... Third party makes game, gamers fall head over heels then a week into the marriage the control issues surface. Sad.

that Baby guyOctober 02, 2009

This title is why I hate gaming media.  I'm infuriated at the love the game received from the press.

It's not worth it, and I think Nick was generous in his review, too.  So many items just feel like the item you drew before it.  Most projectile weapons feel like guns.  Most living things you can ride feel the same.  Most things can be thrown, put in containers, or bounce you up somewhere higher.  Person X likes item Y.  When he gets it, he's happy.  Nothing else special happens.  Everything just falls flat.  The flamethrower, under simple circumstances, freezes the game!

It's just sad, and I honestly feel like all the press swindled me into the purchase with a title I find to be of the same quality as Drawn to Life, something the press agrees fell flat.

Anyways, yeah.  Don't pick it up.  I'm glad Nick wrote this. The End.

GoldenPhoenixOctober 02, 2009

Quote from: thatguy

This title is why I hate gaming media.  I'm infuriated at the love the game received from the press.

It's not worth it, and I think Nick was generous in his review, too.  So many items just feel like the item you drew before it.  Most projectile weapons feel like guns.  Most living things you can ride feel the same.  Most things can be thrown, put in containers, or bounce you up somewhere higher.  Person X likes item Y.  When he gets it, he's happy.  Nothing else special happens.  Everything just falls flat.  The flamethrower, under simple circumstances, freezes the game!

It's just sad, and I honestly feel like all the press swindled me into the purchase with a title I find to be of the same quality as Drawn to Life, something the press agrees fell flat.

Anyways, yeah.  Don't pick it up.  I'm glad Nick wrote this. The End.

On the flip side, pick up the game it is brilliant. It is one of my favorite games this year, and I love finding new ways to solve puzzles, I'm even able to navigate the controls much better. I honestly feel sorry for those swindled into not playing the game because of people who enjoy bashing games because they are relatively well received. It may have its flaws but overall it is a unique and fun title.

D_AverageOctober 02, 2009

I heard that title screen was the best part.  Hopefully they toss up a demo so I can experience that aspect and move on.

AVOctober 02, 2009

now this sucks because i asked for this for my birthday. now i'm not sure anymore. it's probably to late too.

BlackNMild2k1October 02, 2009

It's a fun game and some levels are really challenging.
You can be cheap and re-use some items that will pretty easily float you through a whole section, but those same items might not work on the next section quite as easily.
Also the controls can be frustratingly difficult at times, but you can be inventive enough to work around it sometimes. I've never degraded a leading videogame character through such vulgar language before on such a regular basis, but I did for the most part have fun doing it.

It's a good game, but it does have it flaws. It's worth a play and a must buy if you like something challenging that you can play in quick 5-10 minute intervals.

SixthAngelOctober 03, 2009

I agree with the wording of the review but would have given it a much higher score as I didn't find any of these problems to be as bad.

The controls gave me problems until i got more used to it and figured out one thing.  If the item is near Maxwell always tap and drag never tap or he might move if you miss.  A button that freezes Maxwell would have fixed all my control complaints but I consider them minor.  I think a big problem with many people (not this review) is perception.  They see Maxwell and expect to be doing these Mario like platform jumps.  The game doesn't want people to do that because it is a puzzle game.  They want people to find different solutions to the problems with items, not with reflexes and timing.  If a cop starts shooting you or a bear is mauling you the problem isn't that you can't jump over him, it is that you didn't already have an item to take care of him.

Any complaints about all items not behaving in every possible way is a little ridiculous.  It should have been expected by everyone that some items will be limited.  The spear is treated as a melee weapon, which it also is, so unfortunately can't be thrown.  (attacking with any melee weapon uses the same melee animation.)  It never stopped me from exploring new items and seeing how they worked and nearly all work just as you would expect.  Bug spray sprays, you throw darts and balls, sunlight kills vampires, flashlights light up the darkness, heaters melt ice etc.

With the incredible number of items the option to use a handful (a large handful) to solve many of the problems was inevitable.  The point of the incredible number of items isn't that you have to use them, it is that you can always use something different and be creative if you want.  The game wants you to and rewards you with merits for doing new things.  That is also why the gold star requires you to use different items in every level, forcing you to broaden your choices.  In one level I grappling hooked around like spiderman, I flew my sphinx around next, I jumped on trampolines after that, and the last time I moved the starite to me with a combination of a rope, animals and food.  If I wanted to I could have made three different flying animals (I figured out about 10) but I don't have to, I can solve it how I want and that is the point of the being able to use any item.

KDR_11kOctober 03, 2009

For throwing the spear, did you try to summon a javelin? Regular spears are meant to be used in close combat.

SeaBassOctober 03, 2009

what do you mean you cant "scribble" in scribblenauts? if you mean "scribble" as in "write", yes you can.

yea...the game was kinda dissappointing. i was DYING to get my hands on it and now i havent played it in a week or so.

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusOctober 03, 2009

Scribblenauts will serve everyone differently, it's a very controversial game. For me, as I played more and more I found my enjoyment level of the game decreasing rapidly. The annoyances started small and grew to be bigger and bigger problems I just got sick of dealing with.

That's me though, hence the 7 I settled on as my score. I could see scores for this game ranging all the way up to a 9. When it comes down to it, each person is going to have a different tolerance for the game's issues.

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Genre Puzzle
Developer 5th Cell
Players1 - 2
OnlineYes

Worldwide Releases

na: Scribblenauts
Release Sep 15, 2009
PublisherWarner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
RatingEveryone 10+

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