By Alex_V 1 Comments
Scribblenauts, from 5th Cell, was released on the DS in September. As a game which promises the player that they can create anything and have it appear in the game to help (or hinder) them, the game generated incredible buzz before its release, but was generally perceived to rather drop the ball in execution. It’s an 80 on Metacritic.
WHAT DO I LOVE ABOUT IT?
I find Scribblenauts a fascinating case – it scores top marks for novelty, but average at best for execution. For most players, it seems, the frustrations of trying (and often failing) to use the DS stylus to manipulate the things you create basically killed any goodwill the game could create. And there’s no doubt that some items, like the infamous Jet-pack, can reduce the campaign to a chore.
But for me, novelty wins. Big time. This game offered me something I have never ever seen before in a game. That matters a lot to me. There’s a lot of repetition of ideas in gaming – sometimes we want more of the same thing we enjoyed before, and sometimes we want something new.
The ability to create a surgeon, stick them on a tandem, and have a little ride around, is a sort of emergent joy that I don’t think you can put a price on. Part of it is that you want to beat the game somehow – you want it to somehow fail to have everything. At the same time, the surprise when you find that it has a bike, a tandem, a tricycle, unicycle and the rest. It’s a wonderful playground.
More than that, I reject the criticisms of the game. The campaign is dull? Don’t play it! You can create magic as soon as the game loads up, you don’t even have to press the start button to start creating wild objects and getting them to interact. Even worse, the criticism that the campaign is too repetitive if you use the same items is crazy to me – don’t use the same items!!! Come up with a new way to overcome every problem – that’s what I did, I never used an item twice and loved the game that much more because of it.
The novelty wears off? Of course it does, that’s why it’s called novelty. I only played Scribblenauts for a few hours, and then I was done – but what a few hours it was. I think you should judge experiences for their enjoyment, not necessarily what the score was at the end.
I learned a lot by looking at reactions to the game. Many people simply don’t want to look beyond the basic rules in their capacity to enjoy a game. If you can win a game simply by pressing one button repeatedly, many gamers seem duty-bound to simply press that button. Rather than looking for beauty in a thing, many gamers seem to just obsess over its utility. The equivalent, to me, of looking at an exquisite still life and saying “that’s just a bowl of fruit, move on”. You miss everything that way.
THE GAME’S LEGACY
Obviously I hope to see the same idea, perhaps with more fully realised physics and maybe in a 3D environment. I hope radical, fresh ideas like this come up more often. I think gaming needs to be focussed not on the application of rules, but the emergent possibilities within those rules.