Saturday, September 12, 2009

[N]Gamer's Scribblenauts Review

(Nope. Sorry folks. Joshua didn't already change his mind about putting the blog on hold. This is @Scribblenaut speaking.)

A few days back you could read about the first two review scores Scribblenauts had received. There have probably been a few more magazines to review Scribblenauts since then. But if you're not subscribed to any of those magazines, you've most likely not actually read a single Scribblenauts review yet.

I do have one gaming magazine subscription, and that is to [N]Gamer. They recently reviewed the game as well, and I sent them an e-mail asking if I could post an English translation on the internet. I'm not sure why I bothered asking, to be honest. What I was requesting was basically borderline plagiarism. There must have been planetary alignment at the time, though, because they actually gave me permission! I can't thank them enough for that.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a translation of a Dutch review. Obviously not all word play will translate well, but I did my best to prevent the text from seeming plain.
Also, [N]Gamer never wrote a preview to Scribblenauts before this review. So a lot of the review will sound familiar to the hardcore Scribblenauts fans.

But enough delay. Here's [N]Gamer's review of Scribblenauts:


No thought too extraordinary

Time certainly flies. While adventurers could only carry up to twenty items back in the day, the lad from Scribblenauts can materialise half a dictionary from his notepad. It's enough to make your jaw drop in amazement.

If there is one thing the creators of Scribblenauts deserve a standing ovation for, it's that they dared to carry out this daring, almost ludicrous concept. Because even though the game might look simplistic, recreating all objects in the dictionary must have cost them a lot of time an effort. Just imagine: Not only does every object need to have a matching appearance, but is must also display the appropriate behavior. No, the gentlemen at 5TH Cell definitely didn't make it easy on themselves.

Cartoony symbols show what people and animals are thinking. That baby is toast!

Digital bag of tricks
Scribblenauts contains 220 puzzles (not counting the tutorial levels). Maxwell, a little chap with a rooster-hat, fulfills the role of main character in these. By completing missions, you earn Starites and unlock more levels. Simple as that. You solve the levels by creating the appropriate objects. Simply type in (or write down) the object you want and it will appear on screen. If you want to reach a higher platform, for example, you can place a ladder next to it, or have Maxwell fly up to it with a jetpack. If you encounter an enemy, you could give Maxwell a shotgun to shoot it with, or you sneak past him with an invisibility cloak. And if you see a cat in a tree, you can summon a fireman to rescue it... or simply lure it with a bowl of milk. But of course there are a few limitation. You can only write down nouns: Adjectives, verbs and proper nouns will not be recognised (though the latter has a few exceptions, such as 'George Washington'). You also can't use vulgar words, or copyrighted objects and characters. Even with these restrictions the list of available objects is massive, and even available in our native language (Scribblenauts has a Dutch language setting: Every word has been translated)!

God can be a big help, though he's not always in the mood.

Of course we've tried to 'stump' the game here at [N]Gamer. In other words, we tried to think of words that the creators might have forgotten to add. But that was easier said than done. Platypus? It's in. Sumo wrestler? Present. Oil platform? No problem! Of course these objects aren't very useful when it comes to puzzle-solving, but that's what's so great about it: Scribblenauts gives you the freedom to figure that out for yourself. Of course this does mean that every puzzle can be solved in hundreds of ways. Imagine there's a whale on the beach, and the game asks you to return the creature to the sea. You could tie it to a vehicle and drive into the water. But you could also grab a shovel, and get the water to flow to the whale. Or you hop on the beast and stick a pair of wings to Maxwell's back to fly it back into the ocean. A plethora of options, but you do get rewarded from putting some thought into your solutions. Creative solutions are rewarded with badges and 'ollars' - coins required to unlock new worlds. And if you beat the level three additional times, you are awarded a gold (instead of silver) Starite. So creative players are rewarded, while the indolent player is encouraged to try more original solutions. This is as good as it gets, folks!

If this vehicle doesn't earn us some extra 'ollars', we give up.

Star on the roof
The worlds in Scribblenauts (a total of ten) are divided into eleven action- and eleven puzzle levels. The action levels have one simple goal: 'get the Starite'. This is usually easier said than done. We once stumbled upon Maxwell inside a building filled with explosives, while the Starite was located on the roof. We've lost count of how many times Maxwell exploded, but we can tell you it was more than in all the previous levels combined. The puzzle levels, on the other hand, place you into different scenarios that require more thought. The task you receive is different in each of these levels. In one level you'll be trying to swipe a dino egg for a starving caveman, in another you focus your efforts on getting a cute girl into a swimming pool. Sometimes the solutions are obvious, but as we said: Creative solutions are more rewarding... and more fun. Sure, you can build a bridge to cross a ravine. But of course it's much more fun to jump over it with a motorcycle... on the back of a panda... wearing a top hat! Admittedly, it can be a little tough to combine items. Especially when you're trying to work with chains and ropes things can go awry. Either items refuse to connect, or you accidentally instruct Maxwell to move elsewhere. This can be a tad annoying (especially when Maxwell is in danger), but with a little bit of patience you should be able to manage. Levels do not have a time limit, so you'll rarely need to rush.

In this level you must stop the ninja from massacring the royal family.

Once you've plowed through all of the action- and puzzle levels, there's still the option to create your own levels, which you can share with the rest of the world (via Wi-Fi). The level editor contains all 220 level designs, and 38 tunes from the game, and you're given the ability to set the relationship between objects, to add a hint and alter the difficulty setting of the level. We expected no less from the men at 5TH Cell. Perhaps the game is a little less impressive from a graphical aspect, but what it does is so unique and created with such dedication, that we can't look at the game with anything but total admiration. You can literally have weeks - no, months - of fun simply thinking of new objects to try. Original DS games that are fun to play to boot... they do exist!

Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Lasting appeal: 10/10

The Good: No DS game has ever captured our imagination like Scribblenauts has. With tens of thousands of words, 220 puzzles and a level editor you'll be playing for a long time.

The Bad: If you're not of the creative kind, it might be best to avoid Scribblenauts. A bit of patience is also required: the game doesn't always do what you want it to.

Score: 9/10
-Niels de Rijk

To put that 9 into perspective: [N]Gamer has only once given a third party game a higher score than that. And that game was Resident Evil 4.
Evidence of that the game might be as great as we all hoped it would be is piling up, wouldn't you say?