Ambition Over Gameplay

User Rating: 7.5 | Scribblenauts DS
I greatly anticipate the majority of readers to look at that score, completely ignore my review and give it a thumbs down. That's a shame, too, since many folks will miss out on what I feel are valid issues that probably should be noted before running out to purchase this game. You should also know that, before the game's release, I was one of those folks totally hyped for Scribblenauts – not because of the media blitz that followed E3, but because I truly thought the game's premise to be awesome.

To be sure, I still think Scribblenauts is an incredible concept, an ambitious undertaking on any gaming system. However, the execution here is plagued by issues – everything from rudimentary A.I. and poor collision detection, to physics that cause constant frustration within the game world.

Scribblenauts is kind of broken up into three main components. From the start screen, you can simply tinker with the notepad and environments, and it's a load of fun just seeing what you can summon and how those things behave. Then you've got a level editor, which is similar to the tools presented in March of the Minis. It's another great addition that also adds tons of value to the overall package.

Of course, the main attraction here is the puzzle worlds. There's plenty of content, and each world has both "Action" and "Puzzle" levels. The main difference? The action levels are more of the "starlite is here; now figure out how to get to it" variety, whereas the puzzle levels are all about summoning things into the world that will react with other things already present in order to reveal the starlite. It's a great formula, and the design for almost every level is really well thought out.

Where the game falters, however, is in how the physics behave. Objects might act naturally within the game world but not how you would expect each thing to behave in the real world. So, you might have an object that, if you sit and wait long enough, will start to roll on its own due to the actual physics of the game. This causes all sorts of problems when trying to be creative with the notepad, and it makes many of the levels more about luck than cleverness.

There are also quite a few problems with the controls themselves. When trying to get various objects to interact, or perhaps when attempting to command Maxwell, objects will flail or Maxwell will run off to his death. Poor collision detection matched with finicky controls make for a lot of unnecessary tedium and frustration. When you see a great puzzle but can't execute it properly due to technical issues, it's really disheartening.

The camera system, too, is a source of great contention throughout the whole of the game, since, for some unknown reason, the developer decided to force the camera to snap back to Maxwell (the main character) after just a few seconds. You'll never be able to sit and ponder a situation without having to continuously fiddle with the camera. It makes no sense. At least give us the option to turn the snap camera off. Objects such as the moon, sun and clouds all must stay aligned with the camera, so if you want to utilize them in tandem with other objects, you'll have to constantly move the camera back where you need it after it snaps back to Maxwell.

Don't be dismayed, though. As frustrating as I found the game to be, it's still every bit as innovative and charming as the hype has built it up to be. I've had many laugh-out-loud moments just fooling around in levels, and it's amazing what the game allows you to conjure up. There's also a ton of stuff to do here. The "ollar" system is a great way to incentivize the gameplay, and there are a lot of great unlockables. Still, you'll have to struggle through some amateurish design and programming to get at all that stuff, and in the end, it makes Scribblenauts a really good game but not a great one.

Visually, Scribblenauts has a wonderful look, and there has been a lot of love put into the sprite work. There's a nice variety of backgrounds, and though the physics present issues with gameplay, the animations are adorable. The music and sound effects are great fun as well, and there are many great, little-customization options that really boost the game's appeal.

As insignificant as my sole reader review may be in the sea of gamer reaction to Scribblenauts, I still gave a lot of thought to my score. I hope this isn't the last we'll see of this franchise on DS, even if this outing, in my opinion, misses the mark. I'm still in love with the idea behind the game, and I'm having some fun with it. But I think Scribblenauts would have fared better had there been a few, more-experienced game makers involved in its creation.