Scribblenauts Hands-On PreviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Aug 25, 2009
My last hands-on with Scribblenauts was a quick stint -- in between a jam-packed “Chuck” cast autograph signing -- at Warner Bros’ Comic-Con booth, in which I reached out to G4tv.com readers via Twitter. Warner restricted that to the sandbox mode, so there wasn’t much in the way of puzzle-solving. That came a few days ago, when I was lent a build of the game with strict instructions that I had to return it very quickly.
Scribblenauts has two types of puzzles for each of its near-dozen worlds. One is situational (help a girl rescue her kitten, etc), and the action-based puzzles simply require you to collect Starites by any means necessary. The action puzzles were my core focus during my time with the game. They’re fascinating because of the way that they allow an even freer approach to puzzle solving, but they’re equally challenging because of that freedom.
I’ll give you two standout examples from my short stint.
In one action puzzle, a tornado violently moves left to right and blocks Maxwell from reaching the Starite at the other end of the stage. 5th Cell seems to enjoy throwing out slightly cryptic clues -- “We’re not in Kansas anymore. Oh, wait...” -- to indicate an idea of what to do. I handed my DS to someone, who gave up after five minutes of frustration. I tried spawning a hole to indent the ground and weaken the tornado. No avail; the hole in question was too massive to fit the stage. I tried spawning another tornado to weaken it. The impostor tornado got blown off the level. In keeping with the Wizard of Oz reference, I even attempted to create a house to weather the nasty twister. No success.
Finally, I typed in “rope,” attached it to the Starite, and within two seconds, the tornado caught the rope and spit it across the stage. Mission accomplished. But, according to creative director Jeremiah Slazcka, it’s far from the only way to solve the puzzle. In fact, Scribblenauts’ bigger challenge hinges upon your ability to solve its brain-teasers with at least three different methodologies.
In another standout puzzles, there’s a Starite suspended in a chamber above spikes. A lever controls the suspension. Below Maxwell, there’s a moat with a carnivorous shark. If the Starite hit the spike, you fail. The clue here? “Sometimes, things are exactly how they appear.” How did I do it? With more than a few fails and retries. The first time, I typed “platform,” which gave me a wood table. I typed in “weight,” since I tried to avoid relying on the same five objects to solve a puzzle -- “anvil” was becoming a bit of a crutch. The Starite dropped onto the “platform,” broke it, and subsequently shattered on a spike. Back to the drawing board.
I substituted “ramp,” which worked for an earlier puzzle. By using the narrow section of the ramp, I surmised that it would slide into the moat, and as with a prior puzzle, I could spawn a sword to make shark steaks. I proceeded, and typed “weight” to drop on the lever. The Starite fell into the water, I created my trusty blade, and...became lunch. Apparently, the fact that sharks seldom attack people didn’t get back to 5th Cell. Or I should’ve watched “Shark Week.”
Finally, I came up with an ingredient so dastardly it had to work on the shark. What if I got it sick? I typed in “shark flu,” which spawned a little green bug. Nothing. My knowledge of waterborne illnesses probably wasn’t beefy enough to pull it off. Because of my obsession with hitting par, I restarted, but this time, I spawned a chunk of toxic waste. After being consumed on my prior attempt, I decided that killing Maxwell in a toxic soup couldn’t be any worse than making a meal out of him. I dropped the toxic waste on the shark’s head, and immediately, an emoticon popped up indicating that I made it sick. I repeated the other procedures and spawned scuba gear. Two incontrovertible facts came from the event: the Starite was mine, and apparently, Maxwell can handle swimming in the LA River. I also received a new medal: Bioterrorist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit par.
I gave my DS to Patrick Klepek to see how he solved it. He did it with wings and a rock. Bastard.
I’m a bit torn when it comes to Scribblenauts. It does some unique things with A.I. that ensure that you’ll have to take some responsibility for the things you conceive. On the other hand, it’s a little loose to control. In the crowds and rushed demos of E3 and Comic-Con, it’s not quite as evident. But after spending some time with a build (with less than a month to release, I’ll wager it’s a close-to-complete version), I wish that Maxwell were a little less unwieldy. With the vast number of worlds and puzzles, I can’t fathom how profoundly or how minimally that issue will affect my time with the game. But it’s worth noting that it’s a clever, quirky game that could provide hours of endless fun, but not without a few wince-inducing moments with the touch screen.
Like a genie that gives you what you asked for, good or bad, Scribblenauts’ execution doesn’t always fall in line with your expectations. And that’s something that’s tough to deal with at times. But when you finally put together an idea, no matter how crazy or off-the-wall it might seem, there’s something ultimately satisfying about getting that Starite. It’s a funny coincidence that the last game to make me so happy to collect a shiny star involved a famous plumber. So while some of my expectations have been curbed by the game’s quirks, I’m still really excited that I should have another gem in my DS library come mid-September.