It’s rare like a blue rose when a truly innovative idea comes around in video games, but Scribblenauts is the real deal. If you haven’t heard of Scribblenauts before reading this preview, it’s understandable. I hadn’t heard of the DS title before E3 2009 either, but on the show floor, the word-of-mouth buzz about this platformer was strong. Everyone was like, “Dude, you have to check this game out. It’s amazing.”
Scribblenauts is a puzzle game, where the main character, Maxwell, achieves goals by calling various objects into existence. You do that by typing nouns in with the DS stylus. If, say, Maxwell needs to rescue a cat from a tree, you simply type in the word “ladder” and a ladder falls from the sky. Move it to the tree, and the cat walks down to you. Simple enough, but the game amazes because of the sheer number of objects you can bring into the world. I couldn’t stump it – there are over 10,000 separate objects in game, all of which “work” the way they would in the actual world. So if you’re tasked with helping a thirsty person in the desert not die, and you type in “monster” as I did, a monster will appear on your DS screen and eat the thirsty man. A dead guy in the desert is delightfully cruel, but in order to win, you type in “water” and provide a refreshing beverage. But still, you could type “meteor” and a space rock will fall upon him and end his suffering. An example of the game's complexity: I typed in "hose" for a needy fireman, and the game asked me whether I mean a water hose or some women's hosiery. Amazing, no?
Of course the puzzles become more complex than that as the game goes on, and require a number of different objects working together to solve. The game gives you an object par for each puzzle, so some require two things to solve and some might take four. There are seemingly limitless solutions to each problem. If you need to reach a high ledge or ceiling, summon a ladder. Or a trampoline. Or a jet pack. Or some wings. Or a helicopter. Or a giraffe. Or… it really depends on how creative you are. The number of objects and the interaction between them is an amazing feat of game programming, but the behind-the-scenes complexity never interferes with the simplicity of the gameplay itself. The game is so intuitive, it starts to feel a little like magic.
Scribblenauts is a game about creativity, which will reward you for thinking of outrageous solutions or just delight you with the number of objects you can send into the world. I was able to summon Internet meme Ceiling Cat, who then watched me… play with my stylus, as well as summoning that other, famous Internet cat Keyboard Cat, who played me out, but if you're a boring person who needs everything spoonfed to you, this probably isn't the title for you. I could totally see someone becoming unable to think of objects and just getting Scribble-mind-blocked after a few minutes with the game.
Along with the game’s goals, Scribblenauts allows you to solve complex philosophical issues, like would a God be able to beat up a Triceratops? Is Big Foot afraid of a Giant Crab? Who's cooler, prates or ninjas? What happens when you mix thermite and dry ice? In short, get this game when it comes out in the Fall. It’s really super amazing.