Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Scribblenauts

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Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2009
System: DS
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

0:00 Like every other game journalist in the world, I was turned on to this create-any-noun game by the sleeper E3 demo. I've been waiting for the release day since then. Let's write some words!

0:01 Elegant strings play over the developer and publisher logos, giving way to a plain green field with our rooster-hatted protagonist on it. Tapping around the screen makes him walk around, and a quick upward swipe makes him jump. I could play around creating stuff here, but I'm just gonna jump into the game.

0:03 I choose the Challenge mode and we're off to "University" with a grey-mustached professor. "Welcome to Scribblenauts! Tap this box to continue..." The game teaches me how to move with stylus taps and how to control the camera with the d-pad and/or face buttons. I fall down a shaft and jump up a little raised platform to get to my first Starite. Well, that was easy.

0:05 Level 0-2 has me climbing a ladder and picking up a hammer to break a wooden barrier. Still super-easy, of course. When do I get to create stuff out of whole words?

Scribblenauts

0:06 Digging through dirt, then identifying a college and a professor using the magnifying glass icon. Get on with it!

0:07 Quote of the moment: "Driving or riding friendly animals works the same as walking." In the real world, I'm pretty sure that's not true.

0:08 I have more trouble than I expected controlling a biplane. It keeps crashing and flipping upside down as I try to navigate through a small opening. Then I shoot a target with a ray gun to finish the level.

0:10 I just attached a picture frame to a wall with a blob of glue. Thrilling... I can't believe they're hiding the actual interesting part of this game -- creating objects by typing words -- this far into the tutorial!

0:11 Finally... Level 0-6 introduces the notepad that lets you write and create practically anything you want. The game explains the rules: only real-life, physical objects; no places, proper names, "suggestive material," shapes, Latin or Greek root words, alcohol, race, culture, vulgarity or copyrighted words. So I guess The F***ing Jewish-Wine-ville Square (TM) is DEFINITELY not allowed.

0:12 The game tells me to tap the notepad, but not what to create with it: I type in "ball," as it's the first noun that pops to mind. I was expecting a baseball but get a basketball instead. Should've been more specific...

0:15 Now the game's telling me how to destroy objects if I get too many, and how to earn more "Ollars" by using fewer objects and solving faster.

0:16 I like the way the game asks what verb I want to perform: Should I throw the ball at the box, or put it in the box? I'm liking the background music too ... a mix of the best parts of LocoRoco and Yoshi's Story.

0:17 Level 0-9 is my first puzzle level "Hint: Give the Chef some food." Well, that sounds simple enough. I type in "porterhouse" and the game asks if I meant pie. No ... I meant steak ... but OK, let's go with pie. Pizza pie or dessert pie, the game asks? Um ... Pizza! The chef is happy and I get another Starite. Wow... that barely counts as a "puzzle."

0:19 The next one is an "action" level, although the only action involved is climbing to a higher area to get a Starite. I could use a helicopter or a UFO or something extravagant, but I go with the simplest of simple machines: an inclined plane. It's made of metal and gets me to the goal easily!

0:20 Humans and animals can show emotions like "hungry, sleepy, scared, angry and many more!" through stylized word balloons. "Congratulations on beating the tutorial." Aw, it was nothing. "You are now a true Scribblenaut!" Already? Wow.

0:21 On to World 1, The Gardens. The first level has a fireman, a chef, a policeman and a doctor standing around. What is this, the Village People 2009? "Give two of them what they would use in their hands." OK ... the fireman gets a hose and the chef gets a spatula. Winner! I get 120 "Ollars" for solving it with only two objects (three was par, somehow), 85 more for "style" and 432 for my 0:34 completion time. I really hope to get past the first-grade-level puzzles soon.

0:24 "Capture the butterfly." Hmmm ... a net is too simple ... they'll be expecting that ... so I try a lasso. I use it on the butterfly and suddenly he's attached as if on a leash. No Starite though ... odd ... he seems captured to me...

0:26 I try creating a force field next, but what I actually get is a plain old "field," complete with bushes and a lamppost. D'oh!

0:27 OK, game, you have thwarted my creativity. I use the butterfly net they obviously wanted and get my Starite.

0:28 At the bottom of a grassy ramp sits a guy on a bike. "Use the ramp to beat his distance." I use a car instead, and just barely fly past him and on to the girl with a trophy at the end of the lane. I should have tried a rocket car. Oooh, or a motorcycle. Or a DEATHCYCLE! YEAH!

0:30 "Give the farmer three farm animals." OK ... a pig ... he likes that. A cow ... he gets on top and rides that. Uh ... ok. And ... an iguana. Oh no, it's scared of the cow. OK, OK, here's a rooster. I still say it isn't a farm without an iguana.

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0:31 A desert scene with a man in a tie. "Refresh him," says the game. Hmmm, water's too obvious. Gatorade's a trademark. How about fruit punch? It pops into existence ... but it's yellow. Ew. He downs it anyway and is fully refreshed. Still way too simple.

0:33 "Reunite the girl and her kitten." The cat mews from atop a house. Dawwww. Let's see if the old lasso will work here. Yup ... I drag him down and he's no worse for wear.

0:34 "Help him do his job." Him being a lumberjack in flannel, with a single pine tree in his path. A saw and chainsaw would work, but I want to see if a lightsaber will do the trick. Hmm ... it didn't work ... must be a trademark. How about a machete? Yup ... he slices through the trunk with a single chop. Wow ... it's sharp! And he's strong!

0:36 "Clean up the park and get rid of the fly." I pick up a candy wrapper and soda bottle and pitch them in the trash. A magazine is in a tree, but a machete gets it (and the tree) down. To handle the fly I just pick him out of the air and deposit him in the trash. Man, Maxwell must have the reflexes of a ninja.

0:39 A stack of bottles in a pyramid. I have to "knock 'em off without cheating or guns." OK, so what's cheating? I guess the ponytailed girl in the referee outfit will tell me. OK ... throwing a baseball is too obvious ... how about a bull? I drop him, but he doesn't seem interested in charging. Before I can put up a red cape for him, the level is over and it's "Try Again" time. Hmmm...

Scribblenauts

0:41 Both the sprinkler and water hose are way too wimpy to knock over the bottles. A gun-like grappling hook does the trick, though. I still feel like I cheated.

0:43 "Protect the food, but don't upset the hippie by hurting the ants." Wow ... if I had a nickel for every time that has come up in real life. A big pile of sugar ought to distract them ... oh, they just eat through it and move on. I try to encase the ants in a dome, but they just walk right past it. Hmmm...

0:45 Maybe if I raise the food. The game doesn't know the word "scaffolding," but it does know pedestal. Problem one: The pedestal falls over on the hill. Problem two: I can't seem to pick up the sandwich. Grr!

0:49 I use a gun to kill the hippie, so he won't be upset when I kill the ants. This seems to be against the rules. Even if it weren't, it takes too long.

0:50 Well that did not go as expected. First I try summoning a bag to put the sandwich in. Then I find I actually can pick up the sandwich, even though I couldn't seem to before. I get the pedestal back and get some glue to put the sandwich up top, but the pedestal falls over and, along with the bag on the other side, blocks the ants' progress. Hey, a win is a win.

0:51 Moving on to the action levels. 1-1 asks me to "Get it down" from atop a tree, it being a Starite. A chainsaw does nicely, with nice sound effects to boot.

0:53 "Two buttons, one switch" delivers what it promises. A safe depresses one button, a boulder the other. Then I pull the switch and it's Starite time!

0:54 I accidentally start Level 1-1 again and learn about advanced mode. Repeating the level three times will make me a master, but I can't reuse objects. So I use a regular saw, a sword and a ladder to get the Starite. After that I'm a "prodigy." Nice!

0:56 Jumping to level 1-7 to see if things get tougher. A tornado blocks my path to the Starite. I spend a few minutes trying to use a grappling hook to climb above its path. No dice. The helicopter is much too big to get by. I summon a wizard but he just stands there bored and helpless. God likewise just sands there waiting to get blown around, and really, how am I supposed to motivate God?

1:04 I finally get past the tornado by climbing across a couple of ropes hung on overhangs. I'm not sure this was the intended method, but I will take it, that's for sure.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? Even if the puzzles weren't getting reliably more interesting, just playing around creating stuff would be reason enough to play a bit more, at least.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the columnist.

Read Ryan Kuo's review of Scribblenauts.

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