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Mini-Review: Super Scribblenauts

Super ScribblenautsThey got it right this time.

Let me explain.  Last year developer 5th Cell created an ambitious game called Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS that tasked players with summoning seemingly any common noun from the dictionary in order to solve puzzles and complete action sequences.  For instance, if a hungry dog blocked the player's path, the solution could summon MEAT for the dog to eat.  If a massive chasm separated the protagonist Maxwell from the goal, then the player needed to summon WINGS to strap to Maxwell to cross the gap.  Every level had multiple solutions, so in the chasm example words such as JETPACK, AIRPLANE, or other such things were also acceptable.  It all sounds great on paper, but Scribblenauts had some serious problems.  The entire game was controlled with the stylus (including Maxwell himself), meaning that it was all too easy to send Maxwell to his death while trying to arrange objects onscreen.  Many of the levels were Rube Goldbergian action sequences that provided more frustration than fun.  The list of issues goes on, but I did not come here today to bury Scribblenauts.  Instead I've come to praise the new sequel, Super Scribblenauts, in which all of the problems from the original game have been solved and the overall experience has been vastly improved.

The basic Scribblenauts experience returns unchanged for Super, but that's fine by me.  The goal is still the same: use the power of words to summon objects in order to guide Maxwell to collect the end-of-stage MacGuffin, a golden star known as a Starite.  The biggest change to the formula involves the addition of adjectives to the game's dictionary, as it's now possible to summon, say, TINY WINGS or GIGANTIC WINGS or GREEN WINGS or whatever else a unique situation may call for.  For instance, one level requires Maxwell to fly around a series of stacked junk without knocking any of it over.  While WINGS and JETPACK seem like easy solutions, these bulky items make Maxwell just a little too wide to fit through the gaps.  Even TINY WINGS is a bit too much at times.  Enter my new favorite flight item, FLYING SHOES, which give Maxwell the gift of flight without adding anything to his general size.  Other puzzles calls for, say, putting an animal to sleep.  I'm fond of calling in SLEEPY MEAT which tranquilizes an animal that eats it.  The applications for adjectives go on and on and add a fascinating dimension to the game.

Super ScribblenautsAdjectives aren't the only improvement, however.  Maxwell himself has been fixed up as well.  Now he's controllable with the traditional control pad, meaning that he stays put while players maneuver objects around the screen with the stylus.  Those who are firmly attached to the old way of doing things can still use the old control mechanic, however.  Moreover, most of the game's levels are now purely puzzle levels which play up to the game's structural strengths.  Players can take their sweet time trying to reason out a solution without worrying about a burning rope or exploding barrel getting in the way.  The game features ten worlds worth of puzzle stages, but there are also two hidden action stage worlds to discover, and even those aren't as frustrating as the previous game's action stages.  In the end, there are 121 Starites to collect.  Each stage has multiple solutions, so part of the fun is replaying each stage over and over to try all of the possible combinations.  The game even sports a level builder for adventurous designers to try.

Super Scribblenauts fixes every issue I had with the original game to create the experience that many of us expected to play last year.  It's highly recommended if you're into puzzles and creativity, although how much you get out of it is up to you.  I blasted through the game in just under a week, although the multiple solutions will keep me coming back for more for a little while longer.

And now, a few items to try summoning for your amusement: TIME MACHINE, TRANSPORTER, TAME DRAGON, FLYING SHOES, LONG ROPE, SLEEPY MEAT, and GIANT SWORD.