Review: Super Scribblenauts (DS)

Word

We've always had to accept that in video games, there will always be more objects we want to play with than those we're allowed to use. The original Scribblenauts changed all of that, allowing the virtual world to become a malleable, ever-changing playground. You solved simple objectives in search of a Starite, manifesting any object that its over 22,000-word strong vocabulary could understand, but the imprecise stylus-only controls made manoeuvring Maxwell feel loose and the experience fell short of expectations. Now comes its sequel, Super Scribblenauts, making some much-needed improvements but doing little else to change the formula.

The gameplay revolves around solving challenges ranging from simple tasks like filling a classroom with different classroom-esque items to more complex tasks, like infiltrating a wedding, stealing a gift and escaping unnoticed. The real fun, however, is still in seeing just what the game will recognise as a valid entry and how these things will interact. Will a vegetarian eat a pork-chop? What happens when two messiahs get together? You can keep going on to seemingly infinity, again including a variety of animals, plants and mythological creatures only an expert would think up as well as pirate sharks, large hadron colliders, keyboard cats and RickRolls. You'll still come across your fair share of similar or identical objects, but this is never enough to hamper the experience. Now the fun is augmented by adjectives, and you can apply up to ten to each object. Can a fat angry evil hairy Abraham Lincoln destroy a meek irritable vegetarian Cthulu? No, of course not, but it's a lot of fun to watch it play out. So is ascribing the adjective "haunted" to just about anything. There's lots of other fun stuff, too, every unpredictable object another possible Easter Egg-like event; for example, to where does Maxwell teleport when he uses a teleporter? Well, it involves a lot of scientists running from a lot of monsters.

Navigating through levels is more streamlined and visually appealing than in the original, mapping them out among constellations and combining action levels (get the Starite) and challenge levels (do something to make the Starite appear) rather than keeping them separate, never actually calling them by these labels that players of the original will recognise. Adjective levels are also thrown into the mix, usually requiring you to complete a sequence – something like placing a hairy house between a gorilla and a building, or completing the sequence "man" minus "time" equals "new man."

It's unfortunate that adjectives never have a more integral role in the gameplay than this, however – while they sometimes come into play in regular levels, you'll rarely need them for anything more subtle. This makes their implementation seem a bit shallow at times in objective-based gameplay, though they can still make for a lot of fun when just messing around. There are also a lot of situations in which you'll have to think of what the game wants you to do rather than trying out any solution that you can imagine. In the above "new man" situation, for example, using a "new baby" wasn't specific enough, though it was our first logical conclusion. In another example, to "make friends with the alien," we tried giving it an astral valentine, a cosmic brownie and, trying a more straightforward approach, an alien valentine, but nothing worked. Thankfully, Super Scribblenauts includes a helpful hint system, letting you unlock these with the plentiful Ollars you'll earn along the way. It turns out that we needed to introduce an earthly ambassador into the mix. These were far from the only situations in which we were tasked to find something specific that the developers had in mind rather than utilise our own unbridled creativity to solve the puzzle.

The original game featured 220 stages, and while a great many of those included here are more complex and involve multiple steps, there are just 120 at your disposal, providing for a somewhat brief experience. While some of these will certainly task your noggin, especially if you can avoid the tempting hints, it's still somewhat uncommon to face a very difficult challenge. A deeper issue is the fact that about half of them are at their core rather uninteresting – for every "spook your friends" or "defeat the monster," there's a "fill the classroom" or "throw a beach party," essentially having you list items that you associate with certain locations, or some such task.

The biggest improvement over the original Scribblenauts is in the controls. Before, you could only control Maxwell by clicking a spot on the screen with the stylus and watching him somewhat clumsily walk there, making precise puzzles a frustrating chore. While this is still an option, you can now play with the much-preferable arrow buttons, allowing for a more intuitive scheme that will keep Maxwell from falling into the water when you want him to jump to an above ledge. The physics are also much improved, making everything feel more natural and giving things a more realistic sense of weight. You can still type in words either by clicking letters on an on-screen keyboard or through handwriting recognition one letter at a time, but the former method is a lot quicker and more accurate. As before, it also includes a button for recalling the last few things you've entered, which comes in handy with all of those adjectives you won't have to re-type.

Super Scribblenauts also includes a complex level creator, which is much improved over that of the original game. Everything comes in streamlined menus and feels more accessible and far less clunky than before. Again, you can connect to your friend's DS using Wi-Fi or a local wireless connection to share your creations.

The game uses the same graphical and audio design as before with no marked improvements. Everything is presented in a colourful paper-doll style accompanied by fun, inoffensive but unremarkable tunes, and it really fits the imaginative gameplay style well.

Conclusion

In spite of marked control improvements, Super Scribblenauts doesn't provide a much varied experience from its predecessor. The implementation of adjectives augments the sandbox sense of imaginative fun, but doesn't change the gameplay very integrally and won't revive the original's sense of wonder for those familiar with it. Of course, this won't be a problem for those new to the series. The levels are generally a bit more complex in their framework but in a far fewer number than before, and a great percentage of them feel thin and shallow. While shortcomings keep the game from ever reaching its full potential, though, it's still a heck of a lot of fun. It's closer to Scribblenauts 1.5 than a full-blown sequel, but it's still a great experience – it just feels more like what we should have gotten the first time around than a brand new game in itself.

Sponsored links by Taboola

From the web