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Write On- Scribblenauts Review

Great games often create mesmerizing micro-worlds that beg for exploration. As the Super Mario Bros. franchise has so wonderfully exemplified, the perpetual motion of a turtle shell rebounding between two blocks can become a source of fascination. More recently, Red Faction: Guerilla presented a Martian environment which implored destruction; every building was carefully modeled to invite wanton devastation. While designers often craft their realms around a specialized physics model, recent DS release Scribblenauts builds it world with words. 

Although older text-adventure titles such as Zork, constructed elaborate adventures with language, they often suffered from a frustrating adherence to linearity; players were typically required to complete a series of sequential puzzles using a diminutive vocabulary. As soon as players visit Scribblenauts’ title screen, they begin to see the game’s expansive range of possibilities. 

A tap of a book icon in the top right corner brings up a keypad. From there, players may enter the name of nearly any noun, and watch as it appears on-screen. Attempting to test the limits of the Scribblenauts dictionary, I requested a vampire, and watched as a petite, cape-clad bloodsucker was conjured on the touch-screen. While the game appeared to have an impressive dictionary, I assumed it would be unable to replicate common associations. In an effort to stump the title, I conjured up a cross, and watched in amazement as the vampire fled from the artifact. For the next 45 minutes, I remained on the title screen crating baseball-cap wearing crocodiles, zombies, and mummies armed with RPG’s. For the first time in thirty years of gaming, I had become memorized by a diversion before even playing its initial level.

Once players inevitably discover the game’s 242 puzzle and action stages, a series of objectives are unveiled. Each level requires the player to assist the game’s protagonist, Maxwell, in obtaining a Starite. In a series of increasingly complicated diversions, gamers must utilize both their linguistic and creative thinking skills to solve each stages dilemma. After the successful completion of a level, players are ranked by time, creativity, and the number of item used. Afterward, the level may be retried with a new set of terms.

Scribblenauts‘ strength lay within the game’s extensive object database. Each word has a corresponding size, weight, buoyancy, attraction and repulsion- cats chase mice, while dogs eat bones. The system doesn’t always work.  It seems strange when a teacher uses chalk, but is baffled by a pen. However, scenarios often result in humorous repercussions; creating a zombie to scare a pack of trick-or-treaters backfired when the undead attacked the children, resulting in a stage-ending death.

For all the comical mayhem, there are moments that Scribblenauts will exasperate. Since nearly all the game’s functions are relegated to stylus control, blunders will occur. Maxwell tends to move in ungainly strides, and will often overshoot his target. Occasionally, NPCs will walk over an item, prohibiting gamers from interacting with it. Sporadically, bizarre events will occur-a gangster may inexplicably open fire, or a ladder will mysteriously tumble over. Generally, the occasional bouts of idiosyncrasy are humorous when they don’t require multiple retries.

Despite a few niggling control issues, Scribblenauts is a wonderfully ambitious DS title. By creating an interactive world out of thousands of objects, 5th Cell has produced a consistently enthralling puzzle game, which ranks among the genre’s best. While the title offers a multitude of ways to solve predicaments, your first step is compulsory- buying a copy of this game.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

34 comments

  1. Scribblenauts seemed to get hyped to the moon, this dissed when it got released.

  2. Do you write the letters or type them in? Cause Brain Age never seems to be able to read my writing.

  3. I know I need to buy this. I just need the money. Good review.

  4. This seems to be getting high marks just for being original.

  5. Sounds like a great game. I’ll be picking up this one for sure. Do you see any educational value in it?

  6. Yeah, I played with the title screen for like an hour.

  7. Is there violence? I heard you can use guns, flamethrowers, knives.

  8. Try this:

    1. Handcuff yourself to god
    2. create a car
    3. get in the car (try to keep god outside the car)
    4. watch yourself fly away and die.

  9. I need friends to trade levels with. Anyone interested Nintendope3 at gmail.com

  10. Can you make strippers?

  11. Billionaire Billy

    I think some of the designers are in the game. Try Logan.

  12. Is this game for the U.S. only? Will they translate to language besides English?

  13. How many objects can you have onscreen at once?

  14. Try “Yo Mama” and see what happens 😉

  15. Damn, how many of you already have the game?!? I guess it sold allright.

  16. There’s a meter on the top screen. Usually about 6 or 7.

  17. I hope the control issues aren’t too bad, cause I really want to play this one.

  18. My friend got it, and he’s been laughing his ass off with the game. He says its funny as hell.

  19. I’m either going to get this or KH 358/2.

  20. Great review! I’ve had my eye on this one.

  21. Wow, thats a ton of levels. How long does each one take to finish?

  22. Ill get Scribblenauts one of these days.

  23. this game sure sounds fun.

  24. I went looking for it last week and it was sold out.

  25. I completely disagree with this article. Ambitious it is, but good, it is not. I wasn’t hyped for the title. I barely knew about it before it was released, and a friend recommended it. When I started playing it, I was in love with it for the first hour. I was like omfgwtfbbq!!! Then tedium set in. Puzzles weren’t so great. Anything unique I tried failed, and I was stuck using the same old items every time: Grapple hook, jetpack, and some weapon. The problem is that any level after the first stage is TOO complex and it’s too easy to die. What would you rather do, die 50 times trying unique strategies, or rushing through it once with the tried and true method?

    Scribblenauts is definitely a unique game, but it’s buggy and has horrible level design. I’d only recommend this game if they make a sequel and actually have a good QA team.

  26. I don’t know about this one. All Im reading is complaints about the controls.

  27. I got through the whole game, and yes its buggy. Sometime annoyingly so, but I never died more than 3 times because of it.

    While I know you could use a jetpack and lasso to get through most of the game, I tried not to. Otherwise, it’s like cheating yourself.

  28. People either love or hate the game. Those of the type of games I always seem to love.

  29. I know the game is buggy, but how could the debs test every group of objects and outcomes? Seems like a game like this will have small problems, a small price to pay.

  30. I’m glad everyone isn’t drinking the Scribblenauts koolaide. Preach on, brother!

  31. I have to agree with the review. I played through about 200 levels and still love it.

  32. Just got it last night. Easily one of my favorite DS games.

  33. Seems like a perfect rental, or a purchase at $20.

  34. I haven’t bought a DS game since I got my DSi. If I see a deal, Scribblenauts will be mine.