Review: Super Scribblenauts
The original Scribblenauts, released in 2009, was highly anticipated for the originality of its mechanics. In concept, it was the puzzle game all puzzle games had wanted to be. When done right, a puzzle game rises above solutions like mix item A with item B to get passed obstacle C, but presents problems which the player can approach from many angles. This was the genius of Scribblenauts in concept: the item used to solve a puzzle was limited only by the player’s imagination.
But developer Level-5 never gave the player a chance to gauge the quality of its concept in the original Scribblenauts, as the touch based character movement made the game fall apart before its intricacies even came into the picture.
Movement has been switched to the directional pad for Super Scribblenauts, giving the puzzles a chance to stand on their own, but we may not be happy with the answer to the question we finally get to ask.
In regards to the initial concept, which promises player freedom in puzzle solving, the end result is that freedom isn’t free. The cost of letting the player create their own puzzle solutions, it seems, is that Level-5 had to settle for creating overly simplistic obstacles which lend themselves to a variety of solutions. While necessary, it certainly doesn’t leave the player anticipating what the next puzzle could be. Early on you’ll learn that the puzzle will be one of three types, and how Level-5 differentiates puzzles within those three types will be of no consequence.
At their best, Level-5 have created open-ended puzzles that can be solved creatively, but often through trial and error after logically sound solutions don’t interact with the game world the way they should. At worst, the solutions seem like answers to elementary school flash cards, making you create something like a mixture of a bear and a wooden chair. You’ll type either “wooden bear” or “furry chair,” and feel nothing when you get the star to end the level.
The game’s aesthetics, like the concept itself, have a lot going for them. The game world has a neat hand drawn look, with a Crayola style in its colouring. The character design acted as a better incentive for me to try different nouns in than the puzzles themselves, as each character had the right amount of humour and whimsy to make seeing them worthwhile.
It’s a shame that instead of breaking open the limitations of the puzzle genre, Super Scribblenauts just enhances my appreciation of the authorship and creative rule sets in the classics. The solutions to the puzzles either felt unfair and broken, or like their was no wrong answer. In those cases, when everybody is right and noone is wrong, it robs the game of any sense of accomplishment. When it comes to puzzle games, for now, I know why the caged bird sings.