Scribblenauts – DS Review

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Value: 9
Impact: 10

Every once in a while a puzzle game emerges that wows gamers and has people talking.  In 2006, it was Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis.  Last year, it was Braid.  Now, we have Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS.  What makes this game so special is the massive dictionary of nouns programmed into the game.  Using the stylus, you must solve puzzles by writing different words and watching them appear onscreen for you to utilize.  Proceeded by the tagline “Write Anything, Solve Everything,” Scribblenauts is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that encourages imaginative thinking in order to solve the game’s massive number of puzzles.  And while problematic controls and confusing tasks put a damper on the experience, it would be a shame for any person with a DS to miss out on this unique puzzle game.

Scribblenauts is a side-scrolling game, and you must aid the rooster hat-wearing Maxwell as he attempts to collect the Starite in each of the 200-plus levels.  The game’s levels are split up into two parts: puzzle and action.  Puzzle levels require you to achieve a certain goal.  In one level, for example, you must reunite a girl with her cat who is stuck on the roof of a house.  Thanks to the vast amount of words contained in the game, you can clear the level as uniquely or as monotonously as you please.  Sure, you can conjure up a ladder, climb the roof, and retrieve the feline, but that wouldn’t be much fun now, would it?  Instead, you can take to the skies on your very own Pegasus and lasso that cat in, awesomelike!  Once you complete the task, that level’s Starite appears for you to collect.  Action levels play a tad differently.  The location of the Starite is given from the outset, and it is your goal to reach the star-shaped prize by any means necessary.  For instance, one of the action stages forces you to get through two bears before reaching the Starite.  You can come up with the most outlandish solution and watch it unfold before your very eyes.  Feel like taking on those bears head-on?  Then arm yourself with a rocket launcher and unleash enough fury to make the people over at PETA shiver.  Want someone else to do the dirty work for you?  Try summoning the mythical three-headed Hydra and sick your new pet on those pesky bears.  Nearly everything you can think of is possible in Scribblenauts.  No solution is too offbeat, and you will find that coming up with the most ridiculous concepts is very rewarding and provides the most fun.
Unfortunately, while most of the stages make the goal obvious, some of the level objectives can be obscure to the point of frustration.  For example, there is one puzzle stage that provides the pre-game hint “Bull in a China Shop!”  Instinctively, some players would imagine that the solution may require calling forth a bull.  When doing so results in absolutely nothing happening, it is unclear what exactly must be done to clear the stage.  Then there are a few instances where you can do pretty much anything and still obtain the Starite.  While these instances are few and far between, it is a little odd that solving some of the puzzles doesn’t require you to do anything related to the pre-game hint.

The controls are mainly based around the DS’s touch screen, while the D-pad and face buttons are used to move the camera around, and the R and L buttons rotate your objects.  You can write using two different input methods, a notepad and a standard QWERTY keyboard.  The problem with the notepad is that it often mistakes letters.  Writing the letter H sometimes results in the letter U appearing onscreen and writing an L sometimes translates into the game as a C.  These are just two examples of the problematic notepad’s flawed functionality.  The keyboard as an input method, on the other hand, works perfectly for the most part.  Simply tap the letters to spell out a word, and you’re done.  Controlling Maxwell requires the player to tap on the screen with the stylus.  The control is decent enough, but it is very easy to send Maxwell off a ledge and into unfathomable doom.  An option to control Maxwell using the D-pad would have been very welcome.  Another issue with this setup is that placing objects on the field can sometimes cause even more problems.  If objects are too close together, and you try to have Maxwell interact with one, it is sometimes difficult to choose the correct object with a high level of precision.  Attaching objects can also be a pain mainly due to the fact that only certain areas of an object can have attachments.  One stage has you reuniting a penguin with his pals who are lazing about on a separate ice berg.  Finding that tiny spot on the penguin’s backside can get frustrating, and you may even accidentally latch the rope onto the iceberg the penguin is standing on.  These are all minor gripes, though, and they don’t detract from the overall experience of the game much.
The replay value in Scribblenauts is pretty high.  If you go back to a level after completing it the first time, you will then be required to collect the Starite in three different manners.  This adds value to the game, and it also forces you to get creative with your solutions.  So, if you used wings to help get someone to the top of a mountain the first time, you’ll have to think up different solutions for your second and third playthroughs.  You are also awarded with merits depending on how you clear a stage.  If you ride an animal, you will be awarded with the “Jockey” merit.  Likewise, if you feed another person or animal three times, you will receive the “Glutton” merit.  Seeing which merits you obtain by using different tactics is fun, and with over 70 unique merits, there is a lot to experiment with.

Scribblenauts includes over 200 levels, but that number greatly increases when you take into account the game’s level editor.  Any levels you’ve cleared can be used as a template, and adding your own ideas to the pre-existing layout is a lot of fun.  You can only create action stages, but given the technical requirements of puzzle stages, that’s understandable.  You choose which objects, animals, or people you want, and you place them wherever you see fit.  You can also program characters’ behavioral traits, so if you want to have a stage where a leprechaun is hungry for some dragon meat, then you can.  Feel like having Maxwell face off against his evil twin?  Perhaps you’d like to include Longcat and even Rick Astley (gasp) in your creation.  The possibilities for the level editor are about as endless as they are for the main game.  Created levels can be traded with friends either online or through local cart, so the game’s replay value should live on long after you’ve completed the main mode.
The graphics in Scribblenauts are simple yet charming.  The whole thing looks like a colorful, hand-drawn piece, and the style goes perfectly with the puzzle gameplay.  Characters mostly have a cutesy look, and scenarios are vibrant and rich in color.  The sound design is similar to the visual design.  You’ll hear quirky tunes and simple sound effects.  Nothing is overly elaborate, but everything fits.

Scribblenauts is one of those games that come along every so often that people just have to check out.  While it does have its fair share of flaws, the game isn’t dragged down all that much because of them.  The imaginative nature of the game, the unique puzzles, and the nearly limitless solutions all make Scribblenauts a puzzle game worth experiencing.

The Good:

  • Over 200 puzzles.
  • Nearly limitless solutions for solving puzzles.
  • Great level editor that adds to the replay value.
  • Original on a completely different scale.

The Bad:

  • Control issues arise all too often.
  • Notepad option is bad.
  • Some solutions either don’t make much sense or are too frustrating to figure out.

Score: 8.5

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8 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. The controls are the one thing I hated about this, but its all well and good. I loaned my DS to my cousin, so I’m not able to play it just now.

    I said before that my friend says that “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” does something, try it and tell me what I does, cause I’m gonna rip my cousin in half if I have to keep waiting for him to give it back. XD

  2. Hey, here’s something funny you can try, type in “Atheist” to make an atheist, then type in “God”. the Atheist craps himself and runs like Hell.

    You can type in Cthulhu as well, they’ve really thought of everything. I tried to put a boy and a priest on one screen, and make the boy wear a choir robe and he refused. Smart lad. XD

  3. I rented this game and it is pretty good. The selection of things to create is almost endless.Nothing like drawn to life.Still a great game.

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