Innovative, imaginative and charming are just a few words that can be used to describe Scribblenauts. This game for the DS will challenge you to think up the most zany and outrageous creations possible. The objectives in Scribblenauts are simple enough, but the methods you can use to achieve those goals are endless.
By having the English dictionary at your disposal, you can create almost anything that will aid you in achieving your goal. Within the game you have the ability to bring up a screen, punch in a word, and have it be created on screen for use by either yourself, Maxwell, the main character, or by another character within the level. By using the stylus and touch pad you control Maxwell by moving him through the world and having him interact with whatever items you create. If the starlite (your star shaped objective) is located on top of a high peak, you can type in a 'jetpack' and blast your way up. Conversely you could hop in a hot air balloon and gently float to victory. How you solve the puzzles is limited only by how strong an imagination you have.
Scribblenauts' charm and use of creativity can be ruined though if you continue to use the same items over and over. Unless you're willing to be creative and put your mind into action, the levels will seem repetitive and you will not be getting the full experience intended. There's nothing in the game that gives you a strong incentive to solve puzzles in new and outlandish ways so if you get lazy, odds are you'll be using the same few items over and over. This of course would be to your detriment because it's truly amazing how many different items have been created for use in this game.
The system for creating an item is pretty straight forward; you hit a button on screen and use the stylus to type in the desired item. If you happen to spell the word incorrectly a list of words that closely match what you have entered will appear. Problems do arise though when entering items that consist of two words. For example entering 'lightning cloud' will result in producing just a normal cloud. When this occurs, you'll have to try and figure out a more correct entry for the item in question (in this case simply 'lightning' produces a lightning cloud). There are a few ground rules for what can be created, nothing trademarked and nothing inappropriate, but even then, it's amazing how many different things you can type in and have appear on screen. It's possible to punch in over 5 different types of monkeys, and each time a differently sized and coloured monkey will appear. Although they are only unique by their size and colour, it shows how much effort has gone into including as many different words as possible.
It speaks volumes about how fun this game can be when simply goofing around on the intro screen can bring so much enjoyment. This sadly also points out one of the major flaws within Scribblenauts. Within this game there are two different types of levels, action levels and puzzle levels. Action levels require you to get from point A to point B while surviving whatever obstacles are in the way. Puzzle levels on the other hand require you to solve a given problem which rewards you with the starlite. The puzzle levels can be as simple as asking you to 'give' a doctor his or her tool. They can also be extremely difficult with scenarios such as having a dead body in the middle of a room, three people standing around, and asking you to solve who committed the crime. The puzzle levels somewhat employ the same type of sandbox gameplay that can be so enjoyable from the intro screen. It's the action levels that really bring out the flaws in Scribblenauts. The controls in Scribblenauts are likely the biggest problem with the game and are nowhere more apparent then while playing these action levels. Maxwell is controlled entirely by the stylus on the touch pad. For the most part simply controlling the direction of Maxwell is decent, but once and a while he runs where you don't want him to run or will jump when you want him to stand still. The largest control issues come when interacting with other objects, and these action levels are where this happens most frequently. If you're in a helicopter for example, and want to fly to right, you click on the right part of the screen. This would be seemingly simple, but in this game you have about as good a chance as moving right as you do jumping out of the helicopter and completely ruining whatever you were trying to achieve. These types of moments result in frustration and likely having to restart the level. It's the obvious lack of polish on the controls and interaction that really ruin the potential of these levels and puts a damper on the enjoyment of the game. When half of the content of a game is ruined by something so essential such as the control scheme, it stops a good game from being potentially great. The physics, or lack thereof, is also a large problem as objects will act oddly. Large, heavy objects will be flung across the screen like feathers, and trying to attach two items together can be extremely difficult if not impossible.
In order to unlock each of the ten stages that you play these puzzle or action levels in, you need to accumulate ollars, the game's currency. These ollars can also be used to unlock new environments for the intro screen, as well as different avatars and songs to play during the game. You earn ollars based on your par, style, and time taken to complete the level. Each level has a par, which means that to achieve more ollars you must use less items than the level's par. Style is dependant on how unique your method of completing the level is, but seems to be rather flaky. You also achieve merit badges, which can be 'All New' for using new items, 'Hero', for rescuing a character, or no weapons, amongst other things. Since you will gain enough ollars to unlock all the stages easily, it only reinforces the fact that you do not need to be overly creative to beat the game. Ideally the developers would have employed some method of insuring that the user had to be original within each level. That being said, within each puzzle level, you have the ability to replay it in advanced mode which allows you to beat it three additional times. The catch is in order to complete the level each additional time you have to use completely different items than any of your previous attempts. By doing this you will have to use your imagination, but depending on the level and the difficulty, it can also be an exercise in frustration. This advanced mode underlies the replay value of this game which may will be one of its strongest features, but playing this mode is completely optional, and may be overlooked.
Scribblenauts comes with a map editor, but it is a rather limited and simple. You can only use levels that you have already beaten, so creating a new landscape or geometry is off the table. Within the levels you've unlocked you're free to add any content and change how the new items will react to the scenario. Since you can't change the physical layout of the level, this can be rather limiting, but there is some fun that can be had in creating these levels and seeing how wacky you can make the scenario play out.
All this being said Scribblenauts falls short of expectations through a lack of polish and some pretty horrendous action controls. The idea behind this game is solid and the package that is delivered is still fun, but because of some issues that are hard to overlook this game isn't quite what had been expected. The single player maps are fun to play, but the sandbox creationism is at its best when you're just goofing around at the intro screen creating whatever you can think up and seeing how things interact. Fans of Scribblenauts can only hope that the idea that was the foundation for this game can be kept and worked upon so that a more complete and satisfying package can be delivered in the future. That isn't to say Scribblenauts is a bad game, but unfortunately it doesn't quite live up to it's expectations.