[Game Review] Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS)

Overview:

scribblenauts boxartSystem: Nintendo DS (Exclusive)
Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Genre: Puzzle / Sandbox

Scribblenauts is the newest title from 5th Cell, the same team behind the clever and creative DS game entitled Drawn to Life, a platformer in which you drew your own characters and lots of your own items.

Their newest title is one of the most innovative and creative game concepts ever devised, which is what helped the game earn the loads of hype and also earned the E3 “Best of Show” award, making it the first handheld title to ever be given the coveted title.

Now that it is finally on store shelves, does Scribblenauts manage to live up to the insane amount of hype it’s garnered? It’s review time.

Review:

Scribblenauts is unlike any game you’ve ever played before. It is, at its core, a puzzle game in which you control a young boy named Maxwell on his quest to collect shiny star-shaped items called Starites. You’ll make your way through over 200 different stages which are split between action levels and puzzle levels and segmented throughout the course of 10 different and unique worlds.

The twist? In Scribblenauts, you write the items you need to reach your goal using the Nintendo DS touch screen, and the game creates it for you to use. There are over 10,000 different items in the game at your disposal that can each be used in a plethora of different ways. In this game if you can’t find what you need to solve a level, you simply aren’t being creative enough.

When you first boot Scribblenauts you will be taken to an interactive title screen where you are free to experiment with the game’s vast vocabulary of words and just play around with the different things you are able to conjure up. This is actually my favorite part of the entire game because there are no rules and no goals. You are free to do whatever you want.

Want to see who would win in a fight between an incubus and a veteran of the Vietnam War? Maybe you want to feed an innocent baby to a zombie? Drag a kitten into the sky with a helicopter, drop it into a pond infested with hungry piranhas? Feed a hobo poison and make him get struck by lightning? This is the place you’re going to do all of that and spend hour after hour just messing around. And then you’ll remember there’s still an actual game to play!

When kicking off the adventure, Scribblenauts wisely kicks off with an effective and informative tutorial that does a pretty good job of showing you the ropes, or at the very least helps players understand the concept behind the game so that they can get the most out of the experience. You’re not going to learn anything other than the basics and you’ll be guided through a few examples of the creative levels Scribblenauts has to offer.

Throughout the course of the 10 different worlds you’ll see so many creative challenges that the only thing you’ll feel after each one is pure satisfaction. This is the first game in a really long time that actually makes the player feel smart after doing something as simple as getting a star out of a tree.

Sure there are the easy levels that are easy to scoff at after figuring out the solution, but for every one obvious solution there are five that will leave you scratching your heard with your stylus while trying to figure how to get a cow out of the road without that psychopathic butcher chopping it to pieces with a meat cleaver.

Once you get past the first few worlds, developer 5th Cell’s true creativity starts to shine brightest. The insane variety of challenges to be conquered is simply mind-blowing. Each world holds 22 levels total, half of which are puzzle challenges, half of which are action sequences. In the puzzle portions you simple have to find a way to get the Starite placed somewhere in the level. The action sequences require players to perform certain actions based on a hint delivered at the beginning of each level.

Succeeding in the challenges will earn the player Ollars,the game’s currency, as a reward. Ollars can be used to purchase new songs or avatars in the Ollar Store, and are also used to buy access to new worlds. The ability to play as an alien or zombie as opposed to Maxwell is pretty awesome, and buying new Avatars is where most of my spare Ollars go.

This game has a ton of replay value. Aside from the the insane amount of challenges, the hours you’ll spend messing around on the title screen, and the multiple times you’ll replay each level to earn higher rankings and more Ollars, you’ve also got access to a competent level editor. It’s no where near the quality of the editor used by the game’s level designers, but it’s definitely an awesome distraction. After levels are completed, you trade your creations with friends via either the Nintendo WiFi Connection or through local wireless trading.

But as unbelievably awesome as the bulk of Scribblenauts is, it has some very frustrating and hard to ignore flaws that plague the entire experience. Aside from the fact that you can’t create dildos, which is the first thing the majority of my friends have tried when I let them play, you’ll often run into words the game doesn’t know. This usually only happens when playing around on the title screen and won’t often keep you from reaching your goal, but it’s an immense disappointment when it does occur.

But the biggest and most frustrating flaw with the game is the fact that there is an obvious reason Maxwell wears a helmet. He’s retarded. Since you don’t have direct control over your character and you simply tap where you want him to go on the touch screen you must blindly trust his pathetic AI to do what you want. Watching him run around like a confused idiot instead of just getting in the bulldozer you plan on running over an army of gerbils with is absolutely frustrating beyond belief. This problem could have been addressed by giving players direct control of Maxwell’s movement through the the D-pad or face buttons (for lefties) and handling actions with the touch screen.

Final Words:

Despite the extremely frustrating control deficiencies, Scribblenauts is still the most creative DS game I’ve played in a very long time, possibly ever. The massive vocabulary may not have everything you want to use, but it still has a ridiculous amount of stuff to toy around with. The good definitely outweigh the bad by a vast margin, and I give this game the highest of recommendations to any DS owner.

Buy Scribblenauts

Buy the Official Prima Guide

Pros

  • Very creative, one of a kind gameplay
  • Upbeat music sets the mood for the care-free attitude of the game
  • Simple visuals are very charming
  • Over 10,000 different objects to use
  • So much replay value
  • Fun, fun, fun

Cons

  • Let’s just say there is a reason Maxwell wears a helmet
  • A large portion of those 10,000 objects are different birds and fish
  • Levels can only be shared with friends

Score: 8.9/10 (Outstanding)

Gameplay: 8.75/10 (Lost points for the frustrating controls)
Graphics: 8.5/10 (Very charming and simple style works really well)
Audio: 8.5/10 (Fun soundtrack and lots of sounds for different items)
Entertainment Value: 9.75/10 (So much stuff to do)

4 thoughts on “[Game Review] Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS)


  1. Sweet! I saw the preview of this game on IGN! It looked like a lot of fun. Too bad I don’t have a DS and can’t afford to get one right now šŸ˜›

    I hope you have fun with this one Zac!


  2. Excuse me, that’s actually a rooster hat! šŸ˜€

    Anyways nice review. Can’t wait to play this one myself.


  3. @Erin

    Girls read IGN? Weird.

    @Kyle

    Actually, Zac is right, that IS a helmet. I was watching a developer interview (on IGN I think, lol) and they were talking about his wardrobe and said his hair pushes up against his helmet. Come to think of it, the interview may have been on Nintendo Week. I can’t remember.


  4. Oh, forgot to include my opinion!

    I was heavily disappointed with the game in all honesty. So many objects share the same sprites, like you said a ton of the objects are birds and fish that no one cares about, the hoverboard is no where ner as cool as it should be, and like you said the controls are awful.

    But I had the game hyped up to be so much that even though I was disappointed, it is still a fantastic game, just not as perfect as I’d hoped.

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