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Scribblenauts Review - DS

6
Gameplay: 7 stars 7
Graphics: 3 stars 3
Audio: 2 stars 2
Innovation: 10 stars 10
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Introduction

With its almost ubiquitous presence in the hands of just about everyone in Australia, it’s easy to forget that the Nintendo DS was at one point an extremely risky proposition for Nintendo. Leaving the Game Boy brand behind was a big move, and so the new system had to have a pretty big selling point to justify its existence. That selling point was innovation – new ways of gaming you hadn’t experienced before. Four or five years on, and we’re still seeing the platform deliver new concepts with games like Scribblenauts from 5th Cell.

Gameplay

At its heart, Scribblenauts is a puzzle game. The aim in each of the hundreds of levels is to get the ‘starite’, the game’s MacGuffin-esque collectable. How you do that is, literally (literally… meta-pun), up to you. You have the ability to create anything you can think of by typing it into the keyboard on the lower screen, and it will then be manifested in the world. If a starite is on a ledge, you can type in ladder and then climb up to it. Thanks to a huge dictionary, just about anything you can think of can be called into existence.

The game breaks up the puzzles into two categories: Puzzle Mode, and Action Mode. The first type just tasks you with fulfilling the needs of NPCs in the level. The action ones show you where the starite is located in the environment and then throw in antagonists, like bears or other creatures, to block your access. These require more quick thinking and fast reflexes. Your character moves when you point the stylus either side of him on the touchscreen, but it’s an imprecise control method that invariably sees you falling off a ledge or accidentally clicking on something you didn’t mean to. Thankfully, time pauses when you type in an object, but it really feels very ‘slippery’ when navigating.

Because these control issues, I tended to steer clear of the action versions. With no real way to jump other than to push upwards and hope Maxwell, the game’s protagonist, stumbles over the obstacle and where you want to go. Plus, the items interact in a clunky manner too. You can all too easily knock over a precariously placed ladder just by dragging the stylus a fraction too far in one direction. When you’re under attack, and since it only takes one or two hits to take you out, it’s a frequently frustrating experience.

On the other hand, the puzzle mode has its own frustrations. The dictionary, while impressively diverse in nouns, is insufficiently contextual. You may want a ladder to climb up to a higher platform, but the game’s ladder only comes in one default length, leaving you tantalisingly close, but not close enough. Then, there are issues with the game’s combination of items. You are told at one point to rescue a sheep, which requires getting rid of a wolf, but you can’t use a gun lest you scare the flock. You might try distracting it with ...

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