‘Scribblenauts’ Review

The dark horse darling of E3 this year was “Scribblenauts,” a relatively unknown puzzle game from the developers of “Drawn To Life.” Thanks to an incredibly innovative and ambitious gameplay mechanic, “Scribblenauts” managed to seize several Best of E3 awards. But is a unique mechanic enough to sustain the game? Lets find out.

The Basics

“Scribblenauts” is a puzzle game, but instead of pieces, you have your vocabulary. You’re basically asked to solve a variety of puzzles by using your imagination. Just about any noun (so long as it’s not sexual or copyrighted) can typed into the game’s keyboard to call that object into existence. So, for example, if one of the puzzles is asking you to help someone’s eyesight, you can type in “glasses.”

The magic of “Scribblenauts” is being creative, though, as you can also type in “binoculars,” “monocle” and even “sniper rifle,” any of which are also acceptable answers. The rest of the game plays out as a very simplistic platformer as you move your hero about, interacting with the objects you create to solve more puzzles.

The Highs

The Dictionary
By far the most incredible thing about “Scribblenauts” is its dictionary. There are 22,802 different words that you can type into the game, ranging from “Albertosaurus,” to “Thorium Dioxide,” to “Zoopraxiscope.” The fun is discovering these words, even if most of them will never be very helpful in a puzzle. It’s an incredible parlor trick and you’ll probably spend your first hour with the game just summoning random objects. And yes, in case you’re wondering, in the “Scribblenauts” universe, vampires always beat werewolves.

The Humor
Even though the game features a cute, cuddly graphical style, some of the puzzles take on darkly humorous tones. For example, one of them has you trying to rescue a girl from a pack of zombies (easily distracted with brains).

The Art Style
Speaking of the style of the game, the bright colors and cute characters really work for the overall aesthetic. Even demons look lovable in “Scribblenauts,” and it’s pretty entertaining to see how the developers designed, say, a chupacabra.

The Lows

Touch Controls
While the dictionary is the strongest point, the controls are, by far, the weakest. You’re forced to direct your hero through touch controls alone, which gets extremely tricky when you’re trying to tap a moving object and end up sending your hero into a pit of lava. There’s also a level of path-finding at work, so you’ll often have to fight with the game to make your character move to where you want. Not helping is the delayed restart time for each puzzle, making the process all the more frustrating.

Simply letting players control the hero with the d-pad and jump with one of the shoulder buttons would’ve made the game much less frustrating.

Old Hat
After the thrill of the dictionary wears out, you’ll probably find that the gameplay in “Scribblenauts” gets a little repetitive. At a certain point your mind ceases to be creative and you’re forced to just use solutions that have worked in the past, which takes all the joy out of it. It ends up being a really creative idea that can’t quite sustain the dozens of puzzles in the game.

Final Word

If anything, “Scribblenauts” is an extremely impressive, entertaining, creative toy. I’m not quite sure that it stands up as an excellent game, since the mechanics outside of the dictionary are pretty weak, but the dictionary alone is probably worth your time, and it’s a good option if you’re looking for a game you can play for five minutes before putting down. Plus, you can finally find out who would win in a fight: a Minotaur with a ray gun or Satan with a calculator. (Spoiler alert: Minotaur by a mile.)