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Scribblenauts Hands-On Impressions

Creativity is your primary weapon in this charming platformer from the team behind Drawn to Life.


The Nintendo DS is rife with platforming games, but not a single one is like Scribblenauts. In this game, you guide a cute kid named Maxwell throughout a world, which consists of 220 increasingly difficult levels. The one common theme that draws all of these levels together is the way that you conquer the obstacles that lie before you: think of a solution, type it out on the touch screen, and that object will appear before you, ready to be used. With tens of thousands of objects in the game, it's awfully hard to think of something that the game doesn't have in it (provided you're not thinking of such an abstract concept as communism).

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Who's Making This Game: Scribblenauts is being developed by 5th Cell, a studio with a history of charming and creativity-driven DS games. The company most recently brought us Lock's Quest, but before that it made Drawn to Life, a platformer in which you actually drew your main character. So it's a team with a good track record for taking interesting ideas for how to use the DS touch screen and putting them into action.

What the Game Looks Like: It's 2D platformer with a rough, hand-drawn art style, but a style that's also cute and appealing at the same time. It's quite similar to the look of Drawn to Life. The objects that you call into the world aren't terribly detailed, but with the sheer number of them stored in the system, that's entirely understandable.

What There Is to Do: The game is split into traditional platforming levels and smaller, more deliberate puzzles. In the puzzles, you're given a quandary and told to find a solution by using objects that you think of on your own. One example that we saw put the player on one side of a small island, and a star (your goal) on the other side beyond a tall wall. The easiest solution is to write the word jetpack, have it appear, pick it up, and attach it to Maxwell and let him fly over the wall. But if you want to get more creative, you can spawn a dolphin into the water, a diving helmet for Maxwell, and ride the friendly dolphin under the island to the other side.

The platforming levels are more traditional 2D, run-and-jump fare. You might encounter a wall too high for Maxwell to leap over, so a quick solution would be to spawn a ladder and climb it. If you reach a gap too wide to leap across, you can simply spawn a plank of wood to cover it up. These sound easy, but some of the later levels that we saw were pretty nasty. The difficulty definitely ramps up as the game goes on. At one point, we encountered a level with deadly sharks in the water between you and your goal. It took us a few tries to figure out the best solution as we continued to get eaten over and over, before realizing those same dolphins that we used earlier would actually fight the sharks on our behalf. That, or you could just drop a toaster in the water and electrocute them to death.

Adding more replay value is the fact that you can return to all of the levels that you've beaten to edit them with the level-editing tool, and replay them in an advanced difficulty mode that remembers which objects you used last time and prohibits you from using them again.

How the Game Is Played: Every bit of movement is done with the touch screen. You tap where you want Maxwell to go, and he'll automatically jump over small obstacles and gaps. You punch in letters with the stylus to write objects, and then drag and drop them wherever you want them to go. In fact, the only buttons that you use are on the directional pad, which is for moving the camera to scope out terrain that you haven't reached yet.

What They Say: The official Web site asks, "What if anything you could think of could be used to help you in a video game?"

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What We Say: Well, it obviously doesn't have everything you can think of, but it's sure close. All sorts of things from shark repellent to the specter of death are in there for you to type up, call into the world, and use for solving puzzles and traversing over 2D platforming environments. We really enjoyed what we played of Scribblenauts. You can expect to see more on the game in the very near future.

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