Scribblenauts (DS)

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".

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  • System: Nintendo DS
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Max Players: 1
  • Age Rating: Everyone 10+
  • US Release: September 2009
  • Developer: 5th Cell
  • Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
  • Similar Games: The Incredible Machine, Portal, Professor Layton series, Armadillo Run


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.

Why yes, you can summon a Griffon while you sit in a hovercraft wearing a trilby hat. Thank you for asking.

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.

  • GameCola Rates This Game: 8 - Great
  • Score Breakdown

  • Fun Score: 9
  • Novelty Score: 10
  • Audio Score: 8.5
  • Visuals Score: 7
  • Controls Score: 4
  • Replay Value: 10
5 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 105 votes, average: 8.00 out of 10 (You need to be a registered member to rate this post.)

About the Contributor

From 2007 to 2013


  1. I used cthulhu a lot in the beginning, but then i found a simple “blob” is damn near indestructible.
    Now I’m just determined to make keyboard cat and longcat do something useful for me.

  2. Wow. Am I the only one who thought this game was absolutely horrible? The controls are spotty and horrible, the physics don’t make sense more often than not, and having access to thousands of items mean nothing when you could use the same ten items over and over and clear every puzzle with them. There were cute and clever bits thrown in here and there, but I found it to be an unfinished game with a gimmicky element that was at the end of the day highly unnecessary.

  3. You don’t have to use the same ten items every time, though, do you? That’s what makes the game fun for me; thinking of different things to use, instead of just shooting everything and then grabbing the Starite.

  4. I managed to pass about five challenges before I really needed another helicopter. Besides, speaking of challenges, there are just far too many =( I didn’t get on with Scribblenauts, at all.

  5. I thought it was a great game. You CAN use the same ten items over and over again, but that just means you’re dull and uncreative.

    The whole point in the game is that there’s a seemingly unlimited number of ways to solve each puzzle, limited by what you can think up.

    The controls are a bit subpar, and I blame that primarily on the fact that they require to use the touchpad to move instead of the D-pad. Doesn’t make much sense to me that way, but that’s what they did.

    When I play, I make a point to not reuse as many items as possible, and I try to get more of the style points on each level. 🙂 It’s as much a game as you want it to be I think 😛

  6. The game is under copyright protection, however I’m sure there’s a whole BAY full of software PIRATES that have released a veritable TORRENT of copies of that game all over the internet.

    DOT ORG.

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