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Nintendo DS Review: Scribblenauts

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"Write Anything, Solve Everything"

Believe the hype surrounding this Nintendo DS exclusive game. Besides some minor movement/object interference issues, Scribblenauts deserves as many accolades as word offerings exit in the game. Tens of thousands of words with hundreds of possible solutions. There are no places, proper names, suggestive material, shapes, Latin/Greek root words, alcohol, race/culture elements, vulgarity or copyrighted material included. The game transforms words into action and helps one discover a deeper vocabulary level.

No huge reveals or spoilers in this review, they would just ruin several potentially rewarding experiences from this all age/level game. It’s much more rewarding when missions are won based on original thought, so resist that temptation to grab a dictionary.

The open environments let players embark on “Choose Your Own Adventure” type experience while solving puzzles or completing action-based tasks. Several scenarios resemble movie making processes or story telling where players can optimize their imaginative skills for better gameplay, special bonuses, and immense entertainment.

The basic format involves conquering each task by acquiring Starites using the main character, Maxwell, who gets some nice customized costume changes. The first game mode lets players orient themselves in a simple setting while offering several bonuses like a secret moon level or special backgrounds by entering different word types. Using the touch screen, scribe or type words by selecting the notepad (upper right) then grab or replace that word at any time. The notepad also functions as a trash can. Access the magnifying glass in upper left to indentify objects.

Next players complete the 11 level tutorial then access the core, comic panel style game menus including the challenge mode (puzzle or action format), a level editor (save options, special settings, etc.), an Ollar (the game currency) store, extra levels, and smaller option screen (bottom right on the touch screen). The 10 core worlds (each with 11 levels) have various themed titles including The Gardens, Peaks, Ancient, Shoreline, Outer Wild, Frontier, and Mish Mash. The higher numbered levels sometimes have a higher difficulty, but not always. Player skill often factor into the difficulty more than the level construction.

Scribblenauts also doubles as an entertaining learning tool where reading and spelling are very important. Strengths in creative processing, critical thinking and problem solving provide benefits as well. The consequences for failure have no high shock value because objects simply disappear, though the actions might provide clues into some thought processes.   

The game presents subjects like the finance and golf, giving players a common sense reference to game elements. The budget meter limits the amount of word-to-object transformations so players have enough room to work in some crowded environments. Each task has a preset completion par and where one finishes in relation to par affects the resulting performance score. The score appears in a results screen after each task. Player par, style points (originality, etc.), and time all factor into the total Ollars earned, which are then used for purchasing new levels (30 total), instrumental songs, and avatars.

After the results screen, a merit achievement screen (think Boy Scouts) displays special activity combinations and sequences completed…whether intended or not. The incentives work well plus players get infinite replays on each task, which pushes replay value through the roof. Gameplay automatically restarts after death or failure. Also, the clock is always ticking, but developers have resisted in displaying a timer, which would have been nice for hardcore players to gauge their performance and beat their previous scores.

Common sense analysis helps in many situations. As the game progresses, players adjust to the dynamics and other variables like object size ratios and spacing. Object properties can impede progression, so remember to minimize the clutter and drop any impeding objects by touching Maxell.

The developers have added other characters for even more gameplay variety, which can help or hurt progression, but mostly just serve to entertain. Yes, the othe characters react to Maxell’s actions too, so players can enjoy some unexpected events. For example, when using a pillow to knock down milk bottles, a female character gets angry when she gets hit and charges Maxell, which knocks down the rest of the milk bottles.

Objects have even been anthropomorphised, so one should interact with objects as much as possible for endless discoveries. These objects also display emioticon bubbles which display symbols, which are not always easily defined. An expanded magnifying glass identifier would work well in these situations, but player logic is the only option.

The extensive level editor allows AI customization (e.g. who character/object fears another character/object) as well as shaping the difficulty level, however, the core levels cannot be altered. The game also allows for hints to be written which can then be shared through the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi connection. Local/ online connections with friend code sharing also expands the gameplay.

The bouncy songs, created by David J Franco, sustain the creative game tone throughout. Additionally, the complimentary flipbook journal helps players write helpful notes and contains a flip cartoon example in the bottom right. Pop culture mindsets and superhero visions can help create more entertaining solutions and scenarios.  Highly recommended and an essential addition to any Nintendo DS game library.

Scribblenauts is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for cartoon violence and comic mischief.


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About Tall Writer

Love writing, media, and pop culture with a passion and using them in meaningful ways.
  • Rob B

    Awesome game and I like the review. Thanks.