Scribblenauts - Nintendo DS

I wasn’t even going to bother writing this review because I’m going to be reiterating a lot of the same points you’ve no doubt read in countless other reviews of this game. Not to mention the game is almost two weeks old by this point. However after all of the hype we’ve been giving it both on the site and especially on the podcast, it felt wrong not to do at least a quick write-up on it. So here it is – the long awaited, kind of unnecessary Total Action Adventure review of Scribblenauts.

This game came out of nowhere for a lot of people. With all of the huge games at this year’s E3, you would never expect a DS game few had heard of to emerge as many people’s best of show. And yet Scribblenauts did just that. The hype became insane and many were saying this might in fact be the most incredible video game ever made. Well we were saying that at least. So now that the game is finally out and we finally got our paws on it, does it live up to the insane standards that we (and many others) had already set for it? It almost pains me to say not entirely – but it comes pretty damn close.

For sheer concept alone this game deserves a ton of credit. Just the idea of being able to write just about anything you can think of and watch it appear was mind-blowing, but it’s a whole different story when you’re actually doing it. I guarantee you the first couple of hours with the game you won’t even go past the title screen. You’ll be too busy writing the most outlandish objects you can think of and seeing what you can do with them. Eventually you will remember that there is in fact a game that goes along with this.

That game is actually quite huge too. There are tons of stages (I believe around 250 for the final number) which are split between puzzle and action. The goal of all the stages is to earn or collect the Starite. In the puzzle stages you have to accomplish a specific task in order to get the Starite. These range wildly from refreshing a man in the desert (sounds vaguely sexual actually), to helping a cat down from the roof of a house (hint: fire). The action stages are more straightforward and are more about overcoming obstacles in the stage in order to reach the Starite. Each type of stage has their moments, but overall I definitely prefer the puzzle stages. They seem to encourage a little more creativity.

One feature of the game I really liked is that after you solve a puzzle, the level isn’t considered fully completed until you go back in and solve it in three completely different ways. That’s a great idea that really encourages the player to think creatively since it can sometimes be very easy to just rely on the same items time and time again. It also adds a ton of replay value to the game.

Of course the most fun part of this game is seeing what sort of outlandish solutions you can find for the various stages. Here are some of my personal highlights so far:

1. Task = Get past a goalie and score a goal.  Solution = Scaring the goalie with a Chupacabra and then walking the ball into the net.

2. Task = Destroy a piñata at a child’s birthday party. Solution = Won in 7 seconds by immediately blowing the piñata apart with a shotgun. This seemed to please everyone, child and clown included.

3. Task = Help a penguin cross water containing a shark (or maybe it was a whale?)  Solution = Using rope to tie the penguin to a wheelchair, then putting on a jet pack, sitting in the wheelchair, and rocketing everything to the other side.

Sounds pretty great huh? And those are just some of the examples of ridiculously awesome things you can do in this game. In description form this game is incredible. Simply explaining the game and telling people some of the things you have done will absolutely blow minds. It’s when you actually sit down to play it that things start to fall apart a little more.

I’m sure you’ve heard countless complaints regarding the controls already but there is a reason so many people are speaking out against them – they really are quite bad. The main problem is that you have no direct control over Maxwell, your character. The d-pad and face buttons (no idea if these are the proper terms but I’m sure you understand) move the camera around the screen, but don’t affect your character. Instead the character is moved using the touch controls and dragging/tapping the stylus to get him to go where you want. Unfortunately, all too often Maxwell decides to ignore what you’re asking of him and instead decides to simply stumble around under his own free will.

I will tell you right now, there is nothing more frustrating than spending a while laying out this intricate solution to a puzzle, only to have Maxwell bumble his way through it, knock a bunch of stuff down and ruin the entire thing. It’s irritating and happens way too often. It really taints the experience and after it happens a couple of times, you won’t want to revisit that puzzle. Once you solve a puzzle that has been giving you trouble, you never want to go back to it and in a game that encourages trying different solutions on each level, that is not a good thing. At least you can always punish Maxwell for his insubordination by having him smash a nuke with a hammer, but it still doesn’t feel like enough for him.

What makes the control even worse is that it’s not just your character that is controlled via touch screen; everything in the game is controlled with the touch screen. So you might be trying to tap a specific item but instead are tapping something in the background, or Maxwell interprets it as something he should be doing, etc. The vehicles are controlled by tapping where you want them to go but it never seems to work perfectly for me, especially with the jet pack. Most of the time my vehicle is simply bouncing around the screen, but that could possibly be chalked up to user error. In either case, the controls taint what is otherwise a really fun experience.

Control issues aside, there is still a lot to like about Scribblenauts. It’s a great game to break out every now and then and I find myself thinking about things I can write when I’m not even playing the game. In a nutshell, when Scribblenauts is fun, it’s really fun, but when it’s frustrating, it’s realllllly frustrating. I definitely still recommend checking it out. In the end I really like the game, but I just wish I full out loved it like I was expecting to.