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Overview

So many decisions it hurts...

Scribblenauts is a unique puzzle/platformer developed by 5th Cell and published by Warner Bros. In it, players input words into the game via the stylus which cause the word to materializes a representation of that object on the game screen. The object inherits all the real world properties of the word you typed in, so that a tree can be chopped down and burned. Objects can, in many cases, be combined with other objects to create unique results, such as gluing a chainsaw onto a horse. Players must then utilize these objects and item combinations to solve levels, which are split up into two different modes.

The key aspect of the game is scope, given that the database of supported words (and thus items) number in the tens of thousands. Though many words are tied to the same object, there are enough unique objects and interactions to make for nearly endless freedom.

Development

Originally coined as being an impossible concept to bring to fruition, it took 5 people around 6 months of perusing wikis, encyclopedias and dictionaries to come up with a database of usable words. It then took 8 artists "almost a year" to bring these words to life in the form of corresponding objects.

Object interactivity works effectively in Scribblenauts and coding was made a less tedious task by assigning objects to categories rather than coding them all individually, allowing items to inherit certain features if they belonged to a category. For example, wooden objects may fall under "flammable", whereas they would not fall under "edible" (however a steak or hamburger would). Artificial Intelligence can move and has basic emotions of fear and attraction to certain objects, though beyond that it is very basic.

Gameplay

Scribblenauts contains a LOT of objects - you probably won't see them all

Scribblenauts' gameplay is fairly straightforward, as there is only one main objective: retrieve " starites" by controlling Maxwell and using all the various objects at your disposal. There are 220 levels in the game divided evenly into two types: action levels and puzzle levels. Each level is designed to be played multiple times, allowing you to experiment and use different items to achieve the same goal. A par system, which keeps track of how many objects it takes you to complete a level, serves as the score system of the game. Your par score is combined with the time it took you to complete the level as well as your creativity which ultimate results in the awarding of Ollars, the in-game currency.

Puzzle Levels

In puzzle levels, the starite will generally not appear for you to collect until you have solved the puzzle in question; this often involves appeasing an NPC with some kind of task, such as rescuing a cat from the roof of a house. These levels promote creative thinking instead of platformer prowess, though in the later levels you'll find a lot more platforming involved.

Action Levels

In action levels, you can see the starite as soon as the level loads. It will usually be trapped in a cage, guarded by enemies, or located behind a gate that is controlled by a switch. Your job is to somehow get to this starite, though how you do it is entirely up to you.

Objects

Easily the largest and most well known aspect of this game has to do with the object system. As mentioned previously, the game can recognize near any tangible word and can produce the appropriate object, complete with its real world properties. Anvils are heavy, toasters electrocute the water, and balloons can make any object fly.

Objects can also interact with each other, particularly in the case of an AI controlled object. The interactivity between objects within the game means that most objects will react appropriately with one another, as you would come to expect in reality; policemen will equip weapons, glue will form a seal between objects, and Einstein will be afraid of God. Many levels require this sort of knowledge to be completed; for instance, a mechanic can remotely operate machinery for you, which is important when Maxwell is far away from a button that needs to be pressed.

Many players, even when frustrated or bored with the main levels, find that messing around with the objects and seeing the various interactions play out is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game. It seems the developers agreed, as the very first screen you see - the title screen - also doubles as a sandbox mode, allowing you to spawn any item without a time limit or other limitation.

Level Editor

The level editor makes use of your ability to summon an object, and allows you to work with preset levels filled with whatever you desire. Unfortunately, the item limit is still present, making some levels a bit too sparse if you try and fill it up. Still, the editor provides a robust set of features, including the ability to set the behavior of any AI object. For instance, you could have a bear fear honey instead of love it. This allows each level to be unique and unpredictable. Sharing of levels is possible over the internet, though you may store only 8 levels at any given time.

Control criticisms

The one thing this game is most bashed for in it's reviews is its control. The stylus is used to control everything in the game via context sensitivity which frequently misinterprets what you want. A tap could mean "move there", or it could mean "pick up this object", or it could mean "attack this object", and many times Maxwell will perform the action you DON'T want him to do.

Surprisingly, the camera is mapped to the face buttons, meaning you cannot control Maxwell directly via d-pad controls.

Critical Reception

The general critical consensus from the enthusiast press is that Scribblenauts may be a great idea, but it fails to live up to its potential. Most of the problem comes with trying to control the game, since everything is controlled by the touch screen. Tapping to move is a problem exacerbated when trying to summon out some of the more thin objects, such as rope, especially when the camera is moving back to center Maxwell again. The AI of Maxwell isn't so hot, either, as telling him to go certain places doesn't result in him always going there. Often it is a matter of not having clicked in the right place, and trying again might be all that's needed to fix the problem.

The other problem is the way objects work. It is mentioned a lot of times that using the fire extinguisher doesn't always put out fire, and it's like that for a few objects that should behave one way, but wind up acting some other way. This tends to be the way with only those objects not necessary for completing the game, but blowtorches unable to get through steel, fire not melting ice and the strange way that certain automobiles jump around (thanks to the physics engine) drag this down.

Yet the final flaw is that it can be simple. 22,000 words are in the game, but in the end, most use will go to a select few items, such as rope and jetpack, to get through most problems. Though the game tries to encourage you with its reward point system (the aforemention Ollars) to try new things, it remains tempting, and too easy to just summon Jetpack and Rope to fly your way through the level and get the starite that much faster. The average on Metacritic still hovers around an 82.

It has also recently been discovered that by using handcuffs and a container-style object (basket, vending machine, shopping bag, etc), it is possible to put the starite into the container and drag it over to Maxwell -- effectively breaking the game. The choice lies on the player as to whether or not they'll use it, though. But whether this is an oversight by the developers or something they put in on purpose to show player creativity is unknown.

Easter Eggs

  • Typing in "game of the year" will result in the Nintendo DS cartridge of Scribblenauts appearing
  • Gamer, Virgin and Fanboy result in the same person being summoned.
  • When typing in " Master Chief" a soldier with a green helmet and a machine gun gets summoned.
  • Both the internet phenomenons Longcat and Keyboard Cat can be summoned in the game
  • Typing in "Gaf" will summon a hovering and ride-able version of the popular video game forum NeoGAF's logo.
  • The term 'Fifth Cell' will make manifest the logo of the company, 5th Cell.
  • In the Japanese release, titled Hirameki Puzzle: Maxwell no Fushigina Nooto (Maxwell's Mysterious Notepad), publisher Konami added references to several of their games, including the Vic Viper from Gradius, Solid Snake as he appears in Metal Gear Solid 4, Goemon from Ganbare Goemon, and Manaka from Love Plus.

Trivia

  • The developers have stated that they perused dictionaries and encyclopedias, incorporating every noun they could find into the game. With such a large database of objects, it is possible that a certain object will never be used by anyone.

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