You know the old adage “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Well now the DS stylus is mightier than the pen with Scribblenauts. It’s a unique puzzle action game where if you can think it, you can probably do it.
Scribblenauts is a little hard to describe. It looks like a cartoony 2-D platformer but the style of play is more akin to a puzzle game like The Incredible Machine. You play as Maxwell, a kid in a world of doodles and his goal is to collect Starites in each of the levels. Why? Who knows? Who cares? It’s fun. These Starites are in hard to reach places and it’s your job to help Maxwell get to those pieces. And this is how Scribblenauts is unique.
By clicking on the notepad icon, you can write words with the stylus on the bottom screen. Or key them in with a typewriter layout, which is easier. Whatever word you put in will appear in the game. Animals, vehicles, food, plants, mythical creatures, dinosaurs, furniture, you name it. Of course there are limitations, like you can’t type anything copyrighted or vulgar. But as one of the developers told me at PAX, there are “tens of thousands of words” you can use. Whatever you type then appears on screen, and then you use the stylus to drag and drop it to wherever you want.
Maxwell can interact with these objects: drive cars, ride creatures, use weapons, climb ladders, etc. And some objects will react to each other, like a cat will chase after and eat a mouse. It’s up to you to figure out how to use what you put in the game to help Maxwell acquire the Starite. You get bonus points for creativity, using less words, new words, etc. You can then use bonus points to buy new levels and other goodies.
There are two types of levels in Scribblenauts: puzzle and action. In the puzzle levels, you’re prompted with a task, such as keeping a man cool in a hot desert, cleaning up a park, helping someone see better, etc. Once you draw the item(s) necessary, then the Starite will appear. In the action levels, the Starite is already in the level, but you have to pass obstacles in order to get to it. But even the action levels feel like puzzles more than anything, with switches to flip and mazes to maneuver around.
You can also create your own levels and show them off to friends using Wi-Fi. Even noodling about on the title screen is fun. The graphics look like the doodles inside a kid’s notebook during a boring math class.
Of course, Scribblenauts isn’t without a few problems here and there. You control Maxwell by tapping the stylus around the screen, and sometimes his movements, both on foot and in vehicles, aren’t very precise. There’s a bit of trial and error in the puzzles, and sometimes your objects won’t work the way you want them to. Goals can also be a little unclear sometimes in the puzzle levels, and the stages are so small that this game is best played in short bursts. But even with these problems, Scribblenauts is definitely a creative title and worth picking up. Try it and let me know in the comments section what crazy stuff you’ve come up with.
Scribblenauts is rated E-10 for Everyone 10 and up, with ESRB descriptors of Cartoon Violence and Comic Mischief. This is definitely the hardest game I’ve ever had to write a “Kid Factor” for. Even though the violence is cartoony and the game won’t let you type in anything vulgar or alcoholic, there’s quite a bit of other things you can type that come may consider questionable. With so many words you can key in, there’s no way for me to list them all. The game can be as twisted as the person playing it.
You can give a weapon to a villainous person and they’ll mow down anything in their path, be it other people or animals. You can make creatures fight other creatures, too. Of course, since the graphics look like kid doodles, the violence isn’t very intense. “Killed” doodles just fall over on their backs and disappear in a puff of smoke, ready to be typed back in the world again if you like. Families with strict religious beliefs may not like the fact that you can type both “God” and “Cthulhu” and have them fight each other to the death! The game will reward you with extra points by solving puzzles in a non-violent way, though.
Strong reading ability is required to play, and Scribblenauts may even be considered somewhat educational as it encourages creativity and enforces spelling and writing skills. Players of all ages can have fun messing around seeing what they can put into the game. The other night I found brother Jeff and his teenage friends huddled around my DS playing this one, and normally they won’t even touch a cartoony game anymore. Later, Jeff said they were just messing around on just the title screen! So if your kids like using their imagination, they’ll probably get a kick out of Scribblenauts.