brooksee's Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS) review

To scribble or to scribblenaut? That is the question.

From the "Best Original Game" award at E3 to the incredibly positive fan reception afterward, the general hype surrounding 5th Cell's Scribblenauts continued to build and build right up until its release. I, too, was pumped about the game and was even a bit worried about attempting to objectively write a review without letting my constantly growing Scribblenauts erection barge in a make a nonsensical mess of things. I mean, come on, a game in which you can type and interact with basically anything? The premise itself is just insane to think about.

If you haven't heard already, Scribblenauts is a action/puzzle game for the Nintendo DS. Players are armed with a limitless dictionary of words with which to solve each puzzle. Any word typed will automatically become reality, within reason (no trademarks, proper nouns, expletives, etc.) Puzzles are split up between ten different themed worlds. Each world contains a series of puzzle or action levels to choose from. Puzzle mode requires a more thoughtful and strategic approach, whereas action mode is more about using items to avoid obstacles and navigating from one area to another.

Each world can be accessed in any particular order as long as you possess the credits or "ollars" necessary to unlock it. As you move from world to world, you won't notice a huge increase in difficulty. Once you complete world 2 and have learned the basics, all worlds seem to be on par with each other in terms of difficulty. This fits in nicely with the way that players can access levels asynchronously. 

The first thing you'll notice about Scribblenauts, after you waste a few minutes summoning random mythical creatures in the main menu, is that you do not have any direct control over the main character, Maxwell. All of Maxwell's movements are executed with the stylus in a point and click manner. In fact, nearly everything in the game is stylus-controlled. The directional pad and face buttons are used only for camera adjustments. For some of the more cerebral puzzles, ones where you may have to move or equip just a few items, the controls work perfectly fine. It's when you are forced to do a bit more level navigation and platforming that the controls really begin to fall apart. 

Because essentially every action in the game is controlled with the stylus, in more complicated situations, it's nearly impossible complete one task with out accidentally performing another. You'll often find yourself unintentionally equipping items or attacking characters, when all you really meant to do was traverse a gap. The bizarre physics in Scribblenauts don't help much either. Items are extremely sensitive to character movement after being set in place. A carefully thought out item placement can be instantly rendered useless because of a simple misstep or jump. The desire for creativity begins to fade as a result of frustration, and sticking to a core group of items that always work (in my case; helicopters, jetpacks, bridge ladders) becomes more important than thinking of creative solutions.

The puzzles that don't depend a whole lot on platforming and character movement are the ones that tend to be really memorable. There are some extremely clever puzzles and possible solutions to discover. Once you've completed a level, you can replay it in "advanced" mode that will force to complete a level three consecutive times without using the same item twice. I found myself enjoying some of the earlier levels in advanced mode more than my first play through later levels. The item restrictions caused me to play more creatively and I ended up finding some really interesting solutions that I may not have thought of otherwise.

The game certainly maintains the charm I had hoped for, especially in terms of art style and general lightheartedness. The soundtrack also fits in really nicely and contributes to what is a genuinely cute and humorous game. However, it doesn't really manage to pull things together in terms of control and "fun-ness". While it almost makes up for its shortcomings with a ridiculous amount of content and its ability to double as a nifty little tool to blow your non-gamer friend's minds, Scribblenauts ends up being a generally underwhelming experience.    

8 Comments
Posted by maladjusted

Brilliant review!

Posted by SJSchmidt93

Wow.... best tagline evar. 

Posted by khaliloneil

Man that pun was awesome!
Posted by Lies

Worth it just for the title

Posted by TissueShoe

Great review! I'm still hoping I will like Scribblenauts more once I play it beyond the hour I've already experienced. The control issues are already pretty prevalent though. Nice title too, that's pretty clever.

Posted by brooksee
@maladjusted: @SJSchmidt93: @khaliloneil: @Lies: @TissueShoe:  
 
Thanks for the kind words, guys!
Posted by torus

Excellent title, superb review. Someone give this guy a job!

Posted by brooksee
@torus:  
 
That's so nice, dude. Thanks so much.

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