Scribblenauts Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Emergent Sandbox
MtAMinutes to Action 0
Keep Playing? Yes
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Scribblenauts is the much-hyped puzzle game from developers 5th Cell that garnered a lot of awards and attention after this year’s E3. 5th Cell are the creators of Drawn to Life, a game that managed to sell over a million copies and put them on the map. Scribblenauts is a game that promises thousands of items that interact with each other in realistic and unique ways, allowing gamers to come up with their own innovative ideas when it comes to solving a level. The first hour of this game will vary heavily for anyone playing the game, as it’s possible to spend hours just on the menu screen.

Editor's Note: Grant begged to review this game, and he gets his reward. About three months back I previewed the game, comparing it to 5th Cell's predecessor, Drawn to Life. While I was less than pleased with that game, Scribblenauts seemed to be on its way to fixing all of its (many) problems. Let's see if the first hour of Scribblenauts starts off in the right direction.

00 - The bottom screen on the menu allows you to move around a small area and even break out the notepad, allowing you to write anything right then and there. Instead of wrapping my mind around some puzzles, I decided to just spawn random things. First up was okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese pancake. Sure enough, it appears. The sprite is also surprisingly accurate. I hand it to Maxwell, but he decides to just hold onto it.

01 - Next up was more food. How exotic could I get? I tried kimchi, and it spawns something that looks like a salad. Not exactly accurate but close enough. I then try kimchijeon, a Korean pancake. It pops up as well and has a different sprite from the okonomiyaki. Fitting in with the Korean theme, I try to summon yangban, an ancient aristocrat. I stump the game, but to be fair it’s not even an English word.

03 - More food. I create a cake, and Maxwell actually eats it. He merely picked up the other food, I guess he has a sweet tooth. Enough with food, next up is a motorcycle. I hop on and cruise around the level for a bit. While writing random things is fun, I was ready to get to the puzzles.

04 - The first puzzle is… a mandatory tutorial! The game gives me basic information about moving around. I fall down a hole, then jump over a small gap before I retrieve the starite, the main prize in each level. The next part of the tutorial instantly begins. This time I have to climb a ladder and use a hammer to break through a wooden plank. Easy enough.

Scribblenauts Eagle

05 - The next tutorial level asks me to dig through some terrain with a shovel. Maxwell, our rooter hat wearing protagonist, gets through it with ease, and at the bottom I find a professor next to a college. The tutorial then talks about “Identify Mode”, where tapping the magnifying glass on the top left allows you to click on items in the level and see their names. Pretty useful if I wanted to spawn those items or people later on. I click around and the game identifies everything from the professor to a bush on the upper level. The starite is close enough, so I grab it and begin the next tutorial area.

06 - Tutorial level four if you’re not keeping up. The game asks me to get in a nearby car and drive. I hop in, but I hit the gate before it opens and it makes a *dink* sound. I drive until I come across water, where the game continues with the swimming tutorial. At the other end of the water is an airplane that looks like a cropduster. The game tells me to jump in and fly to a higher platform. The airplane is a bit finicky at first since the gap is so small, but I make it through. The next area is too small for the plane, so I bail out and find a ray gun. Next up is the shooting tutorial. With the gun equipped, I just tap on a nearby target and hit it, summoning the starite.

07 - The next level asks me to attach a painting to a nearby wall with glue. I can’t attach it just anywhere, only on special green points on an object. An easy task, and I grab another starite. In the next tutorial level, I finally get to write something. The game explains the rules of what can and can’t be written. I write “time machine” and sure enough one appears, but it explodes as the starite appears. The tutorial levels are darting by, which is good considering I’m ready to actually do some puzzles. The next level discusses the par system and how levels have certain limits on how many objects you can spawn. I throw a baseball at a target to win the next starite.

08 - The next tutorial level explains how some objects have multiple interactions. I pick up a nearby ball and then tap a box, which opens up a menu that asks if I want to put the ball in the box or throw the ball at the box. I fill the crate to get the starite and pass the level. Next up is a puzzle level, where the starite appears after I perform a certain action. I have to give the chef some food, so I write the aforementioned kimchi and he takes it, giving me a starite in return. An action level follows, where the starite is visible, yet there are various obstacles in the way. The starite is on a ledge too high for Maxwell to jump on, so I put wings on him and he flies up with ease and grabs it.

09 - I’ve now come to the eleventh and final tutorial level. A king talks about how I should be creative and that I’m now a true Scribblenaut (finally). The starite appears in front of me, and I grab it to finish the tutorial. The map screen only has one area unlocked, so I head on over to a world called “The Gardens.”

10 - The levels in each world are broken up into puzzle and action levels, with eleven each in this world. Switching between the types of levels is as easy as tapping a symbol on the lower screen. I decide to start with the puzzle levels, and the first level has a cop, chef, fireman, and doctor. I have to give two of them something they like. I give a cake to the chef, and the fireman and doctor run over to him, hoping that he would share. He did not. I give a gun to the policeman, solving the level and getting my first real starite. A few more levels open up, but I decide to go in order.

Scribblenauts Soccer

11 - In 1-2, I have to capture a butterfly. I spawn a butterfly net, not very creative but it should work. The only problem is that the butterfly is too high to capture it. I try to jump and swing, but Maxwell simply can’t do it. I then spawn a ladder, hoping that I can catch him at his height. The butterfly doesn’t get close enough and actually keeps flying higher. Frustrated, I make a gun and kill the butterfly, failing the level. Whatever, the butterfly deserved it. The level restarts, and this time I pick a normal net. It drags the butterfly to the ground before it can ascend, so I quickly run over and grab it barehanded. The starite appears and I finally pass the level.

14 - Level 1-3 has me on top of a huge hill with a ramp at the bottom, instructing me to beat the jump record of the biker resting on the bottom. He has a bicycle, so I decide to one up him and choose a motorcycle. I easily pass his record and I’m greeted at the very end of the level by a supermodel (seriously, Identify Mode even calls her that) holding a trophy. The starite appears and I move on. Next up is a farmer next to a barn and I have to give him three farm animals. I create a cow and put him in the barn, followed by a pig. Finally, I choose chicken, but the fowl doesn’t want to go in the barn. It flies around for a while before I delete it. I then create a hen, but it also doesn’t want to go in the barn. Confused, I spawn dog, thinking maybe chicken didn’t count. I run over to the barn and interact with it, and it spits out all of the animals. The starite appears as well, I guess I shouldn’t put the animals in the barn.

16 - For 1-5, I’m transported to the desert. Not exactly gardens, but whatever. I have to feed a thirsty man something refreshing. I write beer, but no dice. The same with sake. I decide to go the PG route and write milkshake, which quenches his thirst enough to give me a starite. A crying girl and a cat on a roof greet me at 1-6, and I have to retrieve the cat. I decide to make a ladder and nab the cat, which works. Not creative, but good enough.

17 - In the next level, a sad lumberjack needs me to help him do his job. I give him a chainsaw and he quickly cuts down a tree. I add another starite to my collection. The next level has me in a trashed-out park and it’s up to me to clean it up. There’s some nearby litter, so I just pick it up and throw it in the garbage. A fly is flittering in the distance, so I give Maxwell a gun to take care of it. I throw away all of the trash except for a magazine stuck in a tree. I can’t reach it, so I decide to pick up a flamethrower to burn it away. I accidentally burn down the tree, but the game doesn’t punish me and I win another starite.

19 - 1-9 has me in a small room with a classic carnival game: knock down all of the bottles. The game says I can’t use guns or cheat, which is strange since a magic notebook is sort of cheating by default. I summon a rhino, which doesn’t want to be ridden and instead kills the girl running the game. Restarting the level, I choose a sword. Is this cheating? I attack the stand with the bottles and they come crashing down, netting me another starite.

20 - I’m almost done with the puzzle levels, most of them only take less then a minute to complete. Next up is a hippie having a picnic at dusk, but ants decide to ruin his fun and it’s up to me to get rid of them, but in a humane way so I don’t offend the hippie. I spawn to anteaters to devour the ants, which surprisingly doesn’t upset the hippie. Another victory!

21 - The final puzzle level for this world asks me to retrieve a woman’s flowers, which are guarded by a bee, a piranha, and one’s on a high ledge. I use a laser beam to zap the bee in one hit, and then decide to kill the fish by throwing a toaster in the water. It electrocutes the fish, but it also destroys the flower. Whoops. I restart the level and have to face off against the bee again. This time I write sniper, expecting to get a rifle, but instead I get an actual person wielding a sniper rifle. He follows me around, so I get close enough to the bee for him to take care of it. Now it’s time to take care of the fish. I write dolphin, our friends from the sea, to combat the piranha and the dolphin wins. I return the two flowers to the basket, and spawn a pteranodon to fly up and grab the last flower. I try to put it in the basket, but Maxwell stupidly kicks it over, knocking the flowers out. I have to pick them up again and place them back in the basket. I finally finish the level and get a starite for my troubles.

Scribblenauts Wedding

25 - Next up are the action levels. The first action level is the often-seen tree level where the starite is stuck in a tree. I just hack it down with a chainsaw, I’m ready for more interesting levels. The next level has two buttons that open up gates hiding a switch, which opens up a door to the starite. I need something heavy, so I spawn two crates to place on the buttons. It does the trick, and I send Maxwell to flip the switch and grab the starite.

26 - I accidentally select the same level, and the advance mode tutorial pops up. In advance mode, I have to beat the level three times, but I can’t use the same items each time. This time I put boulders on the switches and pass the level. For the second time, I decide to see if people can weigh the switches down, and they can. I spawn a chef and a dad to hold down the switches, netting me another victory. For the final time, I decide to use more people. I spawn a wrestler, which gives me someone who kind of looks like John Cena. For the other switch, I spawn luchador, but unfortunately it’s the same sprite. I put them both down, but they hop off of the buttons and start to fight. The wrestler wins, so I put girlfriend on the other switch, who looks like a cheerleader. I pass the level again and complete my first advance mode level.

29 - The next level gives me three paths: going up and over, a diggable wall, or under water. I’ve seen this level a hundred times before, so I just use a shovel to dig to the other side and grab the starite.

30 - Action level 1-4 has a broken gate blocking my path to the starite, so I fly above with wings to the button. I press it, but after I walk away, the gate slams shut. I select boulders and crates to push up against the button, but nothing works as the button just pushes the objects back. I restart the level and decide to send an animal near the button to see if it will run into it. I create a cow and put it there, but the creature is too docile. I then make a stick and drop it on the cow, infuriating it and causing it to charge into the button. With the gate lifted, I stroll over and nab the starite.

33 - In 1-5, the starite is in a small tunnel that Maxwell can’t crawl through. To make matters worse, a steel box is blocking it. A wooden plank is suspended above a small pool of water, so I destroy it with an axe. Unfortunately now I’m stuck in the hole, so I have to fly out of there with wings. I fly near the steel box and try to pull it, but to no avail. I then spawn a rope and attach it to Maxwell and the box, and fly away with it. I detach the box from myself and now I can reach the starite, but the tunnel is too small. I then use the same rope to attach myself to the starite, and I just pull it out and complete the level.

36 - The next area has a few patches I can dig through, but they look rather superfluous since the switch that unlocks the gate blocking the starite is easily reachable by flying to the top platform. I flip the switch, and to my dismay another gate blocks the way I just came. I guess I will have to use a shovel after all. I jump to the bottom, and dig through to the very bottom. I then traverse to the other side and dig up while flying, allowing me to get back to where I started and easily pick up the starite.

37 - The next level is drearier than the other ones, as a tornado blocks my way. There are small gaps in the ceiling with steel attached to the top. I choose a grappling hook, hoping I can grapple past the tornado. I hit the steel, but the tornado keeps pushing me while I dangle there. I try to hit the other steel box on the side past the tornado, but instead I grapple the tornado. I try to pull it away, but it’s simply too strong. I attempt to beat the level with the grappling hook a few more times, but nothing. I then decide to be a little cheap, and summon a black hole on the other side of the tornado. It sucks up the storm, and I can easily walk over and nab the starite.

Scribblenauts Lion

40 - 1-8 has a starite hanging by a rope attached to a wooden platform above barracuda infested waters. I use my tactic in a previous level of using a toaster to fry the fish, and it works, leaving a loaf of bread where the toaster once was. I then spawn an axe to break the platform and the starite falls into the water. Maxwell can’t dive by himself, so I summon diving suit and put it on him. I swim down and take the starite easily.

41 - This time my enemies are a black bear and a polar bear. The black bear is behind a block of ice directly in front of me, while the polar bear is on a lower platform I can only access by digging. I summon Cthulhu from Lovecraftian lore to kill the polar bear, and after a short battle the bear falls. I throw Cthulhu in the trash so I don’t have to deal with it, and dig down to the bottom. I attach wings to Maxwell and fly to the starite, thinking the level is close to being over. I’m right next to it, but Maxwell won’t walk all the way since it’s at the very edge of the screen and perhaps the game isn’t responding to something that close. Do I need to kill the other bear? I try to hop over, but fall in a pit a fail the level.

43 - Let’s try this again. This time, I decide to combat the black bear. I use a flamethrower to melt the ice and kill the black bear. However, the bear seems to be impervious to fire and keeps charging at me. I switch to a gun, but it doesn’t phase the bear and the animal kills me. I do the same method, but this time I switch to a bazooka and kill the bear instantly. I hover down to the starite and this time I can get it with zero problems.

44 - The next level is filled with trip wires, gates, and a shark. To get rid of the pesky shark, I once again throw a toaster in the water to kill it. I move over the first trip wire, which sends the starite down. I use an axe to hack through a platform on the floor, which sends me to the water and past another trip wire, hurling the starite into a small pool. I just swim over and pass the level.

45 - I finally come to 1-11, the final level for “The Gardens.” I’m on a small platform above water housing a giant shark. Above me is another platform with a button, and the the starite is high above, surrounding by spikes. I kill the shark with a toaster, and use wings to fly up and hit the button. Unfortunately, the starite falls straight onto a spike and I fail the level. This time I forget about the shark, and use wings to fly up to the very top platform with the spikes. I get poked a few times, but I find a safe spot to stand. I then spawn a man to stand on the switch, and quickly fly up and grab the starite before it crashes on the spike. I beat all of “The Gardens,” yay!

47 - I purchase the next world called “Metro,” a city themed world. This time I decide to start with the action levels. The first area has me in the desert near a mobile home and a lot of things trapped in sand. The starite is hidden in one of the crates, so I have to find out which one. A rottweiler is too close for comfort, so I murder it in cold blood with a gun. I then grab a nearby shovel and dig to the crates. The first crate has nothing, so I keep digging. The second crate has a water gun, once again pointless. The next one houses an angry bee, so I quickly kill it with my shovel. I decide to dig up, and the next box contains a… person with a cape? I use identify mode and the game labels it as a Halfling. It does kind of look like Frodo now that I think of it. The next crate has what I’m looking for, a starite.

49 - The next puzzle level has the starite surrounded by TNT and land mines. I’m on the upper level, and steel boxes are on top of terrain I need to dig through. I use a rope to pull off one of the boxes, and then dig through the bottom. I land on a mine, killing myself in the process. This time I decide to send in the bomb squad, but it’s not a word recognizable by the game. Neither is bomb diffuser. Is there a special word for them? Anyways, I send down God to get rid of the mine, thinking he’s invincible. Unfortunately he’s not and is easily killed by the land mine, which also destroys the starite via chain reaction. I decide to use my black hole cheat, which sucks away the left landmine and TNT. I remove the box, attach wings to Maxwell, dig through, and fly to the starite.

Scribblenauts God

52 - The next level is an old fashioned museum heist. A security camera and a guard are surrounding the starite on the bottom, with another guard up top. I decide to try my luck up top, and I throw a donut to the policeman, making him peaceful towards me. I jump down and crash through some museum artifacts (I hope that totem pole wasn’t important) and steal the starite on a pedestal, Indiana Jones style.

53 - The next level has two large pipes sending bombs down ramps. The starite is close, but it’s blocked by a gate and I have to pass through both ramps to hit the switch. I write Maxwell, which spawns an evil looking version of the main character with opposite colors. Instead of flipping the switch, he steals nearby items. I decide to get rid of him since he’s not helping. I skip around for a bit, when suddenly I hear a huge explosion, and one of the pipes stops producing bombs, weird. I can jump down quick enough to dodge the bombs from the second ramp, and I hit the switch. The hard part is getting all the way back up. Flying would work, but it doesn’t go fast enough to dodge the bombs. I spawn a conveyor belt, which traps the bombs from falling down the ramp, letting me fly back to the starite and move on in the game.

56 - The next level is a series of steep hills with the starite hanging by a rope near the bottom. The hint is “Let’s ride!” so I spawn a motorcycle and drive down, hitting the last ramp just right to catch enough air and the starite.

57 - The next level has a myriad of red doors hiding rogues and ninjas. I hop on a pterodactyl and fly around, hitting the switches enough until I find a route where I can swipe the starite. I’m crafty enough to avoid the shurikens and whatever rogues attack with.

58 - The next level has an urban warfare theme, with a generic soldier in a tank fighting against three enemies that look suspiciously like the Helghast from Killzone. I am instructed to not hurt my ally, but he stupidly drives over a landmine, killing himself. I decide to avenge him and hop into my own tank, shooting at the enemies until I reach the end and walk off with the starite.

60 - The next level is a huge construction area with alligators, construction workers, and TNT hanging above the starite. I journey down the lower path in the water, using a toaster to kill the alligator. When I fly up to retrieve the starite, I hit a tripwire, sending the TNT plummeting into the starite, making me fail the level. I guess I’ll have to figure out another way.

Scribblenauts Level Editor

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 0

Gameplay: 9
The puzzles are quick and easy at this stage in the game, but I did stumble across some that truly did stump me. This game is the ultimate sandbox experience, allowing you to do pretty much anything and solve puzzles in a variety of ways. The par system encourages you to solve them using only a few items, but people will probably ignore this and try to create the most complicated and convoluted solutions. Some items can be abused pretty badly, but advance mode will definitely make you think more creatively.

Fun Factor: 9
It’s hard not to laugh when you write something completely insane and it appears. The game has everything from everyday objects to mythical creatures to internet memes (LOL WUT is a personal favorite). The puzzles have a lot of personality even if they aren’t too difficult, and they’re quick enough to encourage replaying them.

Graphics and Sound: 8.5
The game has a childish hand-drawn art style which looks great and fits with the theme of the game. While the sprites lack intricate detail, they still look great and unique. The songs are a bit repetitive and many sound the same, but they are pretty catchy and addictive.

Controls: 7
Since this game literally has no story, I decided to talk about a rather big issue since its release: the controls. Everything is stylus based, and the D-Pad is used to move the camera around. The camera jerks back to Maxwell after a few seconds, which can be troublesome for the larger levels. Moving Maxwell is easy enough, but there are times where he can be a bit spastic and you might accidentally kill yourself in some of the more dangerous areas. It helps to just tap where you want Maxwell to go opposed to holding the stylus down and moving it. Sometimes it’s not responsive at the edges of the screen, which was a major hassle in the bear and flower level. Another negative is attaching ropes to two objects, as the rope has bizarre ragdoll physics. Despite these shortcomings, the controls are manageable and doing everything from shooting monsters to flying an airplane can be done with only a few taps.

Overall: 9
After one hour, I can see the game’s exciting potential. The levels, while easy, are never boring or repetitive. While I did abuse a few items, I would like to go through them again and figure out what else I can do. Advance mode is really where this game is going to shine, as it challenges you and inspires you not to summon black holes everywhere. This game has the potential to be a classic, and it may be the start of one of gaming’s next big franchises.

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