Review: Super Scribblenauts (DS)

Can this super sequel deliver what the original tried to do?

Super Scribblenauts (DS)

Developer: 5th Cell
Release date: October 12, 2010

ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older

Loyal Nintendo Gal readers might remember that, during our 2009 Nintendo Gal Awards, multiple members of staff gave the coveted(?) “Most Disappointing” award to Scribblenauts, the highly ambitious “create anything, solve everything” platformer from developers 5th Cell. We griped loudly about the annoying and flawed control scheme, and slightly less loudly about how there was too much overlap between certain nouns, and not as much variety. You couldn’t really “create anything” and it was a bit of a disappointment. Does Super Scribblenauts fix up what the original omitted, and deliver upon 5th Cell’s original promise?

Like the original, Super Scribblenauts isn’t a game with a story. You’re given a wide variety of different goals in each of the game’s levels, of which there are several dozen, maybe close to 100. Each goal will require you to open up your special notebook and enter in the name of an object, which will then appear in the world to help you get to the Starite, which is the ultimate goal of every level. You can enter in the name of nearly any object you want (with the exception of copyrighted and profane stuff, along with a couple other rules) and it will appear in game and function or or less how it would in the real world.

The major addition to this game is adjectives. Instead of just asking for any object, you can ask for nearly any kind of any object. This mainly serves to make the game about a hundred times more hilarious. If you need to move some metal object, you don’t summon a magnet – you summon a magnetic shark. If you need to please both a ghost and a king, you show them a scary crown (which happens to be a crown with a spooky face attached). You can also create “potions” by adding a number of adjectives to the potion in question; whoever drinks said potion will then become all those adjectives.

This addition really lets your imagination run wild, as you can make an object with almost any properties you need, though the system has some slight problems – try making electronics items waterproof. But the main point is that you don’t need to feel constrained by the limitations of individual objects. You don’t need to strain your brain to think of a kind of chair that acts like a bee – just create a “beelike chair”. You can create almost any combination you can think of. Chocolate snakes. Angry refrigerators. Pregnant clocks. Unlike the original Scribblenauts, you really do get the sense of limitless creation, though on occasion you will run into its limits. Protip: try creating an “om nom nom nom”. It’s a real thing.

In case you can’t tell, that is a zombie truck. An aggressive one, at that.

The original Scribblenauts was equally divided between action stages, where you basically did some object-assisted platforming, and puzzle stages, where you basically had to solve some sort of puzzle or satisfy some other win condition. Wisely, 5th Cell decided to make most of the stages puzzle stages this time around. The action stages are definitely tougher, and they don’t really feel like they allow freedom of thought quite as much; there’s more racking your brain to find a specific sort of thing that you need to do. I would consider them the low point of the whole package, though that might be because I’m bad at them. It’s hard to say.

In the puzzle stages, it’s very common that there’s a number of different ways for you to complete any given task. In fact, most of the levels have an Advanced mode, where you’re challenged to solve the same level three times, never reusing a word. For example, the very first level requires you to get a Starite out of a tree; one of my three solutions was to summon the Large Hadron Collider, which created a black hole that brought me and the Starite together right before the planet was destroyed. Of course, if you ever get stuck on any solution, you can buy hints, either by spending time or Ollars, the in-game currency that you get for beating levels. You can buy hints with Ollars, or you can buy new avatars besides Maxwell to play as.

You also have, mixed into the regular puzzle levels, Adjective Levels. These are levels that cannot be solved without the logical and creative use of adjectives, but I stress creative there because you can make some pretty crazy stuff to pass the level, often times. Other times, though, you’ll be made to analyze a number of objects and create one with similar characteristics, though often your particular choice of objects is up to you. This is a game that will rack your brain but also let you treat it as a canvas. Mostly, though, it serves to entertain you by bringing the wackiness in your imagination to life, often for no real purpose besides you’d like to summon a cheese zombie instead of regular cheese.

Like the original Scribblenauts, you can have tons of fun just creating things on the introductory screen, which lets you create any object you want, and you can get into even more hilarious scenarios than before. Within about ten minutes of playing, I was able to get a ballerina to kill and eat a dinosaur, simply by making the ballerina “hungry” and the dinosaur “delicious” (this will work on almost anything). If you’re really exploratory, you’ll run into some of the fun bonus things that 5th Cell programmed into the game; for example, try bringing the two married members of the production team into the same level. The results are pretty funny.

One major complaint about the original game was the controls, and rightfully so. 5th Cell has listened, and we have two sensible control options this time around. One options lets players control Maxwell with the directional pad, while touching and dragging with the stylus to get a different view of the stage. The other is basically the opposite, with the directional pad controlling the camera and the touch screen controlling Maxwell. This second option works much better than before, though; if you touch and hold to the right of Maxwell, he’ll run right, and if you take the stylus off the screen, he’ll stop right away. You rarely-to-never have to wrestle with getting your character where you want him to be.

5th Cell has a lot of things they want you to try, and to help increase replay value, we once again have Merits. Whenever you achieve a random goal, like “Destroy the World”, you’ll get a merit for it; there’s a list of merits that you can browse at anytime, to see how much of the game you’ve messed around with. Often, looking through the list will make you want to try certain things, and the results are all kinds of awesome. For example, the teleporter makes a return, as does the time machine; using the teleporter, though, brings you into a highly strange situation that I found absolutely hilarious. Point is, the game really encourages you to explore and stretch your imagination, even after you’ve completed all the missions.

To that end, we have the Custom Level Creator. You can create levels including all sorts of objects to be adjusted, avoided, caught, given as gifts, healed, set on fire, what have you. You can choose between one of many terrain options or win conditions, you can place all sorts of objects and shape the terrain, and more. The editor itself is fairly intuitive, with lists of objects and manipulations, and a simple create-and-drop interface for objects that involves everyone’s favorite notebook. I was able to crank out and play some very basic levels in only a couple of minutes; I’m sure some will have a blast with this thing, creating levels and then sharing them online.

Super Scribblenauts feels a lot closer to what we were promised with the original Scribblenauts, namely everything. With the ability to add adjectives, it’s much easier to let your imagination go completely nuts, and the results can be great if you’re creative enough. At the end of the day, the value this game holds is dependent on your creativity, and what you want to do with it, very much like the first game; this time around, though, the package is much more equipped to let you create anything and solve everything. If you want to stretch your brain muscles and have a good laugh at the same time, you should pick up this game and see what you can do with it. I think you’ll be surprised at what your mind comes up with.