“The only limit is your imagination” the slogan of Scribblenauts says. “First see, then believe” is what we say.
The setup is simple: Maxwell, the main character you control, wants to get a star (the Starite) in each level and that can’t be done just like that. Two kinds of challenges are presented: puzzle and action. In the puzzle version you need to complete a mission, usually helping or fighting people or animals. The Starite is then the reward for succesfully completing the assignment. The hint you get at the beginning helps you on the way. In the action version you first get to see where the Starite is located and then need to find a way to get there. Also here you get a hint to help. Maxwell is a pretty helpless guy so it’s up to you to help him by calling out all kinds of objects and people. This is done by writing down the name of the object, animal or person you need. He/She/It then appears in the game world and is ready to go to work with.
As the difficulty degree heightens it comes down to coming up with more complicated combinations to achieve the goal. This is the biggest ace of the game; thanks to a wide variety of choices you can make up the most insane things which also makes the levels highly replayable (you even get a reward for this). A lot of freedom, we like that. The DS is, as known, not such a hero in recognizing handwriting and therefore the makers were friendly enough to include a keyboard in the game.
After each succesfully completed level you get an overview of the remaining time, points for style, the amount of Ollars you’ve earned and so on. Ollars is the money in the world of Maxwell (very original, ed.) and depending on how much time and objects you needed you get more or less of them. The Ollars are necessary to buy access to other worlds or you can go to the shop with them where you can buy songs or avatars (alter egos or new suits for Maxwell). Depending on your playing style and which objects you do or don’t use you also get rewarded with points and badges for style.
Although the choice in objects and characters is pretty good, it’s not all sunshine. The behaviour of the objects or people that have been called out isn’t always so logical. For instance I once had to pass an aggressive bee so had a beekeeper come by. Unfortunately the guy didn’t really know his job as the bee attacked him and even managed to get him killed. So, I had to come up with another plan. At first instance it seemed the problem only occured with human aids, which apparently prefer to run around like stupid sheep, but quickly I started to realise objects can show illogical behaviour. When I had to steal an art treasure that was guarded by cameras and guards I had the idea to give Maxwell an invisibility cloak. To my happy surprise it even worked… until I tried to get Maxwell pass a guard who immediately started hitting him. Unnecessary to say this brings down the fun.
Another (classic) problem is in the controls. As the objects as well as Maxwell are manipulated by the stylus, it can happen that something else happens than what you had in mind. A smallers downpoint is the lack of explanation. The game constantly uses symbols but it’s not always clear what they stand for and also the manual doesn’t explain everything. The game we got is completely in Dutch which as such isn’t a problem but translation errors are. Not that there were problems with grammar or spelling, but errors in the meaning of a word are an issue.
The conscious reader must have noticed that I spoke about fighting and killing. Still this isn’t a violent game. There’s just a lot of freedom and if you want Maxwell to test a weapon on another living being then that can be done. Whether it will help you go forward is something else. People or animals that die do just like lifeless objects “poef” and disappear from the screen with no blood or anything passing by. Also you can lose a life or get less points when deciding to eliminate people or animals, especially when concerning people. Scribblenauts has therefore its own style, both in playing and images. As added plus also a level editor is present.
The underlying concept of Scribblenauts is well though out and up to a certain level turned into a pleasant game. However, there are limits to what you can do, mostly due to random flaws that snuck into the game. This is too bad as that makes Scribblenauts end up just below the top.