Like doodling on the pages of a notebook, Scribblenauts is whatever you want to make of it.
In fact it’s even better than doodling because you don’t have to be good at drawing. Simply spell out any singular noun - and apparently there are 22,802 in the game - and that object will appear for you to use.
This is a game fuelled by the wilds of your imagination.
As for its gamic qualities, the set up is a traditional side scrolling puzzle and action experience.
You control a character called Maxwell who has to solve a problem, such as moving a whale back to the sea or piecing together a costume in order to fit into a Halloween party.
Put simply, all you do is tap out the spelling of a word - anything from a black hole to a triceretops - and then manipulate the summoned object by pressing down with the stylus and dragging it where you want on the touchscreen.
Similarly, tapping the touchscreen moves Maxwell around. It's hardly ideal since your attempts to select an object are often interpreted as an instruction for Maxwell to move. Reconfiguring the controls so the D-pad corresponded to Maxwell's movement instead of the camera would have solved the problem.
This is particularly annoying because as well as puzzle levels, you have to deal with action-based levels.
The former pose a task to be solved by generating and manipulating a set of items. When asked to provide Santa Claus with something he wants but doesn't have, for example, you can solve the puzzle by creating a cookie. More complex puzzles ask you to summon multiple items and combine them in interesting ways.
What’s remarkable about the game is that all the objects have properties and interact in terms of behaviour and physics, so dogs chase cats, who chase mice, and so on.
The action stages focus on platforming, having you overcome various obstacles to reach a starlite, which is the game’s basic collection object.
These are much harder than the puzzle stages in which you're given a clear indication of how to complete the level. Instead, in action levels, you're left to your own devices without any hints provided at the start of the stage.
Most action levels have multiple solutions, which acts as a double-edged sword: while this means you have options for how to tackle a given stage, it also makes it hard to determine how to tackle a problem. You're rewarded with achievements if you can solve each stage three ways using different objects each time though.
In this way Scribblenauts is best characterised as a game of trial and error.
Some of this results from the game's difficulty. Devising solutions for many of the later levels is extremely challenging. In tough puzzle stages, it often isn't clear what needs to be done.
Like a messy doodle that looks like scribbling to all but the artist, many levels are tuned to a specific mode of thinking. To the developer the solutions are obvious, but players will have to exercise a good deal of guesswork.
When asked to repair a smoking car, for instance, it's tricky to pinpoint the problem. Does it need fuel? Is it overheating and need water? Will summoning a mechanic do the trick? In this case, none of these measures work. Electrical problems - not at all easy to guess from the image of a smouldering sedan - have to be fixed.
Greed also feeds the game's trial and error tactics.
The amount of in-game currency - called ollars - earned per stage is a factor of how many objects you generate and the time taken to complete the level. Each level comes with a par dictating the ideal number of items to be used. Maximising your cash intake requires you to restart a stage over and over again until you nail it under par.
While this sort of replay is voluntary, acquiring ollars is necessary to unlock new levels. The game wisely counters its innate difficulty by providing 220 levels, making it easy to accumulate enough ollars to open up new stages. If you're unable to solve one, there are always others available to tackle.
There’s also a level editor, which enables you to create and save up to a dozen original designs. Using stages that you've completed in the main game, you're able to modify objects and their behaviour to create new ones that can be shared online via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. And you can download other people’s levels as well.
Added to the size of the game, such additions ensure Scribblenauts remains enjoyable and that you get value for money.
Still, a revised control scheme and extra polish on the most challenging levels could have made Scribblenauts a masterpiece.
As it stands, its raw imagination will be offputting for some gamers, while invigorating to others.
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