It feels like only yesterday 5th Cell’s Scribblenaults imbedded itself in my DS. The game was a minor revelation for me, a person more attuned to causing small Japanese fantasy monsters to harm each other and collecting rupees from bushes than using my brain.
But due to the seemingly revolutionary gameplay, the entire dynamic on which the game is perched, it made its mark on my mind. That’s because, really, there has been nothing quite as innovative on the platform since. While the Nintendo machine continues to churn out quality titles, the somewhat stagnant rate of progress by third party developers makes titles like Super Scribblenauts feel both current and brave.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Scribblenauts, the objective is to help the chipper protagonist Maxwell overcome a long list of troublesome situations. These puzzles range from setting up a hair salon with the tools of the trade to helping a blind man cross a river of fire.
You aid Maxwell in these situations by doing something you’ve probably only dreamed of in other games – you open up your notepad, write down the object you need and it appears in the game. Not only does Maxwell’s magic pad have the ability to spit out just about anything you can think of, the items it spawns are physically and logically real.
Once you’ve completed the oft-complex list of tasks to solve a particular situation you’re rewarded with a ‘Starite’, ending the level where you are graded and can unlock achievement type rewards for creativity or style.
As if the name didn’t make it glaringly obvious, Super Scribblenauts is not a true sequel. Instead, it’s a successor that elaborates upon the original to create a better experience. At E3 this year we were shown to a podium staffed by enthusiastic PR folks breathlessly falling over one another to hawk the game’s new feature: adjectives.
If that doesn’t immediately cause your jaw to drop open, give it time. The ability to modify and massage any of the seemingly endless objects in the game is a powerful thing, one that serves as the reason to play and the reason to play a lot. In the original title you could spawn a panda bear. You could even spawn a giant panda bear. But you couldn’t spawn a super intelligent yellow panda bear. Or a disturbed undead soccer coach. The game has changed for the better and has been heightened into something altogether unique in gaming – again.
But where Super Scribblenauts really excels is the variation and depth of the situations you are thrown in. You are presented with some fairly open scenarios where you throw anything you can conjure up into the mix and hope for the best. Other more structured scenarios arise, often causing some industrial-strength forehead furrowing to unravel. When you find the solution a wave of elation comes across you, you feel better for cracking the nut using the power of your mind.
Sometimes the puzzles can be frustratingly difficult or just too subtle to solve alone. Thankfully, the game retains its inbuilt hint system and the ability to skip a few puzzles ahead to clear your head (by making Dracula fight a giant chocolate centipede).
As a successor, anyone who played the original will find Super Scribblenauts’ interface, design and scale familiar but better, and for anyone who has yet to experience Scribblenauts, this is the title to get. However, the more I play Super Scribblenauts, the more I can’t escape the notion that it plays like an expansion pack and if you found too many faults in the original, this won’t solve them. Masters of the original title will enjoy the new-found freedom that adjectives bring to the formula, but also feel the pinch of being made to use them.
Not all stages require adjectives to be added, but others mandate their use. It’s a double-edged sword, on the one hand adding a new mental challenge to the game while removing some of the openness I found refreshing in the original. Much of the time an adjective isn’t required for the solution, so why would you add one?
That said, it’s a fairly minor gripe considering the technical achievement and the genuinely addictive quality of the game’s progression. The game rightly deserves to be in the upper echelons of DS titles and developers 5th Cell ought to be watched very closely: This level of innovation is what gaming needs.