REVIEW: Super Scribblenauts

Grade: A
Platform: DS

The original Scribblenauts made a splash on the DS gaming scene by allowing gamers to conjure almost anything out of thin air. Thanks to a vast database of nouns and the use of jointed sprites, people could type in a word and see an item materialize before them.

Was there a portion of the game level you couldn’t reach? Well, you could type in LADDER and a ladder would appear, just in case you wanted to prove to everyone that were boring and pedantic. Typing in WINGS was a bit of an improvement, since you could attach these to you character and just fly where you needed to go. Or you could type PEGASUS and ride a flying horse. The only limit was your imagination.

This immensely appealing gameplay was placed at the service of a pretty good puzzle/arcade platformer. There were some things to fight, but most of the gameplay was centered upon collecting stars by solving problems or getting access to hard-to-reach areas.

Super Scribblenauts has expanded and improved this gameplay in a number of ways, though not all are sure to appeal to fans of the original. The most notable change is the addition of adjectives to the game database. Now, instead of just conjuring a VAMPIRE, you can conjure a GIANT vampire, or perhaps a RED VAMPIRE or even a GIANT RED VAMPIRE. You don’t just have to ride a flying pig to reach that higher lever: now you can ride a BIG POLKADOT FLYING PIG.

The folks at 5th Cell, who also gave us the original Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life, have used this adjectival bounty to reshape the gameplay a bit. The original game tended to suffer from JETPACK/WINGS syndrome, in which people just banged through puzzles by typing in the same couple of objects over and over again. Super Scribblenauts focuses on more structured puzzles that require more precise nouns and adjectives to solve. It may be as simple as making a red key for a red lock, or creating a sequence of animals with long necks.

This leads to some awkward word fishing, as you try to read the minds of the designers to come up with the word DIETICIAN rather than HEALTH TEACHER, but an in-game hint system makes these problems minimal.

Fans of the original might not like that the game is less freewheeling, but the invidual puzzles are simply better with more structure. And there’s still a sandbox mode in which you can pit CTHULHU against HUGE SANTA and see who wins. That’s good, because I like to get two mismatched enemies fighting and then use a catapult to fling DIRTY ANGRY PEASANTS and PUDDING at them. The knowledge that a game can do such things should be all the recommendation you need.

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