Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Warner Bros
Heart on sleeve time. I LOVED Scribblenauts. Yes, it was flawed. Yes, the stylus-based controls were hideous – “and now pick up the gun and, no, Maxwell, where are you going? Don’t go down there! No, away from the bear! Oh bum, he’s dead.” – and yes, there were frustrations with words that it didn’t recognise. But seriously, what an achievement it was. It was genuinely different from any other puzzle-based game out there. It tested, if not the limits of your imagination, then at least some of the grey cells you’d pass on the way. It also used the DS in a brand new way.
On a personal level, any game that allows me to pitch God Vs Satan (or, indeed, Santa) and attempt to use Cthulu to rescue a kitten (note: fictitious demons of the underworld are not a good pet recovery system) is a very good thing. Accordingly, for all the niggles, it was easy to overlook them and revel in the sheer, very regular, joys.
A year or so on, and the cleverly named sequel has hit the shelves. At a basic level, things are still the same. You control Maxwell, the smiley chap in the pointy hat, and endeavour to see him through a number of frequently eccentric problems. To solve the problems, you write the things you need into existence.
In that respect it’s business as usual. Where Super Scribblenauts has brought change is with the control system – no more point and hope, now you can opt (and really should) to move Maxwell with the D pad – and the use of adjectives, as neatly referenced in the new name.
It’s by no means a perfect sequel, and there are still some frustrations with the occasionally limited vocabulary or the often vague objectives, but if it was petty to pull the first game apart, it’s even more churlish this time round when you can throw a friendly dinosaur into the mix, or an evil elf or a vicious elephant. Or, should the mood strike, a zombie bathtub.
As far as the available adjectives are concerned, you will regularly find omissions. Some of these are family friendly – “sexy” quite literally isn’t in the game’s vocabulary – but then, oddly, “nude” is permissible. There’s not a great deal of pattern to it then, although it’s the standard ban on anything branded / trademarked. You can’t “hoover” things, for example, you have to create a “vacuum cleaner”. “Coke” won’t quench your thirst, but “cola” will. Some of these are obvious and understandable, others come as a surprise: in a level where you’re trying to get a beach party going, you can’t give the kids a “Frisbee” but you can give them a “flying disc”.
Regardless of such foibles, you can’t help but admire – surely?! – just how vast a vocabulary can be contained into such a tiny DS cartridge. Besides, any annoyance that arises from a refusal to identify a particular word or variation is usually overcome quickly with the sheer joys of what is capable. Need to feed a big beast? Give it a steak. Need to kill off a big beast? Give it a poisonous steak or an exploding one.
There are so many charming quirks to be discovered, and so much lovely animation, Super Scribblenauts is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Fire, for example, can reduce a dinosaur to a piece of meat, while there’s enormous mileage to be had in just creating things for kicks. There aren’t many morning commutes that can’t be brightened up by throwing a “giant robotic angry weasel” into the mix. It might not solve the problem, but it’s still a lot of fun just bringing it into existence.
- Any game that stimulates the little grey cells and makes you smile this much can’t be all bad
- The incredible scope of the vocabulary – and the pleasure of finding a new unexpected option.
- As much fun “off track” as it is going linear.
- Some puzzles are vague in their objective – you can buy additional clues but it’s annoying when it’s not your fault.
- A few control foibles – miss the bin when deleting a small item and it can easily get stuck in limbo. In problems where you have a limited number of things you can create, it’s a pain.
- The occasional frustration of unrecognised words.
The Short Version: With 120 problems, Super Scribblenaut is arguably a little brief, although that’s just the basic level. To complete the game completely means going through certain puzzles an additional three times, with different answers. That will certainly get the synapses firing, and while it will bring frustrations, the sheer joy of finding a new, gloriously silly solution makes it all seem worthwhile. Beyond that there’s a fine level editor (so you can build new problems and send them to friends via wi-fi). Most of all though, Super Scribblenauts just makes me giggle. A lot. I doubt it’s made me smarter, although there might be an argument for the lateral thinking it makes you do, but it has made me happier. When I reviewed the original game, I scored it highly for originality. I’m now scoring it highly for just being a damned good game.
* David Duchovny *