Busy Gamer Review - Scribblenauts

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Busy Gamer Review

Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.

Busy Gamer Review - Scribblenauts

Reviewed On: Nintendo DS.

Scribblenauts In a Nutshell: Solve puzzles and advance through "action" levels in this platformer with a twist. Most levels cannot be completed without conjuring one more items from the game's vast dictionary. Open your in-game notepad and scribble or type the name of the object or creature you think will help. Then see if you can use it to satisfy the level's goal and collect a star. For instance, in one early level there's a star stuck in a tree. You can select an item that cuts down the tree or one that carries you up to collect the star. You can even place a heavy object on top of the star to push it down.

Learning Curve: The basic Scribblenauts interface is mostly intuitive. However, there is no set solution for a level so learning how to solve the challenges is ongoing and can be quite frustrating, in part because of the game's obtuse clues, odd physics and hard-to-predict cause-and-effect (why does tossing a bone have no effect on a dog but picking up a shovel causes him to bite you to death?!).

The marketing for Scribblenauts suggests that the game is only limited by your imagination, but this is far from true. More imaginative solutions often won't work the way you'd hope. Instead, you'll succeed by overcoming the game's limitations - including the wonky control of your main character and any vehicles he might drive and items that don't meet your needs (e.g., ziplines and ropes that don't reach far enough or can't be tied to any useful surface, as well as the numerous items that can't be used to enclose annoying creatures).

The game is all about trial and error, and expect to spend the majority of your time making errors. Fortunately, you can unlock new worlds without completing the previous ones by spending in-game currency earned from your successful solutions - so if a level is vexing you, just move past it and come back later.

The Save Game: The game saves after every level. If you repeat a level you previously completed, you must complete the same task three different ways in a row to earn a gold star for it. As with any DS game, simply closing the lid instantly suspends your game until you eject the cartridge or turn it off.

Family Factor: The game has a hand-drawn appearance that will appeal to kids, but it does permit violent outcomes involving guns, bombs and animals that attack each other. There is no blood - and trying to conjure "blood" delivers a vampire who does attack you but doesn't actually suck anything from your neck! Defeated people and critters simply pop and vanish. You do get a shout out each time you choose a weapons-free solution. The game is rated E 10+ for cartoon violence and mischief, but honestly most kids old enough to spell the words needed to succeed should be OK to play it. We're planning to share it with our 6-year-old.

Buy, Rent or Skip? This game falls squarely between a buy and rent. It's certainly worth trying - if nothing else to play with the dictionary and see what happens when you enter your favorite obscure words. But since there aren't many places that rent DS games, your options are limited (you could try Gamefly, but this game will be hard to find there for awhile). Your best bet is to wait and get a used copy or go in with a friend on it (there are two save slots).

On a Personal Note: Scribblenauts succeeds during those brief moments when you solve a problem with creative item selection and it actually works! Unfortunately, these moments are bookended by much longer periods of frustration as your attempted solutions fall short, often for stupid reasons.

For example: In a level with two bears and a long drop to collect the star, I found that clearing obstacles separating me from the bears (and the star) always ended with my being eaten. Defeating them with weapons enclosing them with barriers got me no closer to my goal since crossing the final chasm to the star proved near impossible.

SPOILER (select the text below to view my solution and why it didn't make me enjoy the game): Using a jetpack should have been an easy way to fly down to the star, but it always resulted in me falling past it to my death. I tried using a zipline, but it was too short. Adding a rope to the star (also short) made it harder, not easier, to collect it. In the end, I found that a single campfire could be moved several times to melt an ice block and then also drive the bears to commit suicide by getting them to dive into the abyss. Then I added a miniature staircase - not tall enough to remotely fill the space, but positioned to reduce the width of the gap - to give me a somewhat bigger target to land on when jumping down to the ledge with the star.

Ultimately, this just wasn't a very satisfying solution - it was contrived and did not make me feel like I had done anything exciting to beat the level. I'd much rather have working solutions that are more creative than kludgy. I could have walked away feeling like a secret agent, but instead felt like a poser who lucked into a win.

There are far too many moments like this, and comparatively few that make you believe that you solved the levels cleanly and effectively. The game could have been much better if the developers had made one of these two design decisions: a) Deliver a deep world with solid physics, tight controls and more logic so you get more satisfying outcomes resulting from the items and monsters you choose, or b) constrain the levels so that it's like you are fixing a broken Rube Goldberg-esque machine by supplying the items that make it complete and then, when it works, you sail more easily to the conclusion.

Either approach would be better than bumbling around, falling down pits and colliding with annoying obstacles. A lot.

One more thing that would have added to the game (and might have saved its current incarnation!): the ability to save and share replays. Then, at least, the more interesting and amazing solutions could be savored and enjoyed by all.

I'm still playing Scribblenauts (off an on), but it's hard to say whether I'm really enjoying it.

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I've considered buying a DS to get a shot at this game, but it looks like I might just wait and borrow a friend's DS and game for this venture. Let's hope things expand for Scribblenauts 2, which seems inevitable given the success of this one from the press and with other gamers. Good review.

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This page contains a single entry by Gamewatcher published on September 22, 2009 10:42 AM.

Wii and DS Stuff - Tennis, Cubes, Last Ninja 2, Pearl Jam's Backspacer and Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Destiny 2 demo was the previous entry in this blog.

Console Wars - Wii price drop, Xbox 360 rebate is the next entry in this blog.

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