You can’t swing a dead cat recently without hitting a game that purports to have “emergent gameplay” or “endless possibilities limited only by your imagination.” But, until now I’ve been largely unimpressed, as that’s only meant I could draw a large erection with feet and giggle while I watch it walk around (you may remember my Magic Pengel review).
Enter Scribblenauts: a game that not only thwarts all my attempts to make anthropomorphic phalluses run free, but also finally lives up to the claim of being limited only by your imagination.
On paper, Scribblenauts’s gameplay is very shallow—complete a simple puzzle to get a “Starite”, and move on to the next level. In practice, however, it is astoundingly deep and infinitely replayable, as levels are solved by calling objects into existence to help you. “Which objects?” you ask? This is where the amazing depth of Scribblenauts is demonstrated—ANY OBJECT. In fact, you’ll find yourself having the most fun kicking the game’s tires seeing what you can bring into existence. Want a motorcycle? It’s there. Crave some jambalaya? You got it. Want Ra, the Egyptian Sun God, to be your personal bodyguard? Done and done.
Don’t believe me? Fine: We’ll do a real-time test while I write. I’ll think of random things I’ve never tried, and we’ll see if they come up. Fascinating, I know.
- Bread pudding: It’s there.
- Rock tumbler: Well, it’s not a rock tumbler, but it is a tumbler in the cup sense.
- Marimba: You betcha.
- Yarmulke: Maxwell is now a certified Jew.
So Scribblenauts may not be absolutely, 100% unstumpable, but if you play by their rules (nothing obscene, no proper names, nothing trademarked/copyrighted), most times you’re going to find what you’re looking for.
Not only is the game able to generate damn near anything you’re going to need, the objects, most times, interact with the world around you just as they should. If you create termites, they’ll eat wooden things. If you create a black hole, everything will get sucked into it. If you create an arsonist and a house, you’ll soon be back to just having an arsonist. The only real problems are nitpicks, like if you summon a Phoenix then mow it down with a chain gun, it doesn’t come back to life. Or, stranger still, when you introduce a vampire to the sun—get this—it bursts into a pile of ash and dies! That’s ridiculous. Everybody knows that they should glitter like a handful of diamond dust and be worshipped by eyeliner-heavy tweens and fat chicks in their late twenties.
Alas, as much as I’d like the review to end there and leave giving the game a perfect 10, declaring that it is completely and totally without flaws, that would be a lie.
The first problem with this game is Maxwell. Maxwell is the be-rooster-hatted protagonist of this game. Nothing wrong with Maxwell as a character; he’s a lovable enough scamp. It’s more his controls that are troublesome. You touch somewhere with the stylus and he goes there, simple enough. Simple, that is, until you’re trying to grab a three-pixel-wide piece of rope while it dangles to and fro from the ass of Pegasus, because you recently tied it there but now need it back. If you mistap and hit somewhere other than the rope, Maxwell is going to move there, and he doesn’t give a good goddamn if there’s a pit of bazooka-wielding, armor-plated crocodiles between there and where he is right now.
The second problem is the game’s physics system. To say the physics don’t quite work like I’d like them to would be one way of putting it. Another way would be “AAARRGHH!! FUCK!!! WHY DID THAT STUTTERING, SHAKING ROPE JUST JUMP AROUND THE SCREEN AND KILL MY PTERODACTYL!! IT’S JUST A GODDAMN ROPE!” Items shudder and shake; gravity doesn’t seem to apply to some objects; and, one time, I called an item into existence only to watch it get stretched infinitely long, turn half my screen black, and freeze the game. This is a real blight upon an otherwise phenomenal game, because, even if you can generate nearly anything you can imagine, if it doesn’t work right there’s no real point to it. Thankfully, this isn’t a constant issue, and the game is still very fun to play, in spite of these flaws.
The pros definitely outweigh the cons in this game, and, despite it flaws, you’ll be able to find a few hours of fun with this title before you even press Start, just trying to see what kind of items it will let you create and how they will react. Moreover, with 200 puzzle and action stages, Scribblenauts offers a metric assload of replayability, as each level can be solved countless ways. It’s among the very best DS games I’ve played, and the only game I’ve seen to take on a premise so ambitious and deliver on it so thoroughly.