Scribblenauts

This is how I would like to imagine the idea for Scribblenauts came about. The developers were walking around a Chuck E Cheese and they approached a child at random. They had agreed before going in, that whatever kid they decided to approach, and whatever idea he proposed, that would be their next game. So they approached little Jimmy and asked him what kind of game he would want to play and he exclaimed excitedly, “I want a game where I can write the name of anything and it will appear out of thin air!” Then I would like to imagine that the developers slowly wept at the amount of work they had committed themselves to.

The idea is so deceptively simple that it seems impossible. Write down anything and it will appear out of thin air and then use the aforementioned item to solve puzzles. But the developers at 5th Cell pulled it off — for the most part.

You can’t quite write down anything. Places and proper names are axed, as well as licensed or copy-written words, and most disappointingly, non kid-friendly words had to be removed as well. But that still leaves you with 20,000 or so words to play around with. The actual number has yet to be revealed.

Like I said, simple. Write down anything to help you solve puzzles. It begins as an impressive little challenge. Trying to find words that the developers left out, which is harder than you would think. Then move on to the actual puzzle solving part of the game. First use the obvious to solve puzzles — an axe to cut down a tree. Move onto the more clever puzzle solving mechanisms — summon a beaver to cut down the same tree. But then the game reveals it’s true colors. Showcasing your innermost destructive desires.

For example, I was given the following puzzle. Get a cat down who has become stuck on top of a house. Your first reaction is, a ladder perhaps? No, that is too easy. So you jump to the next logical conclusion. Summon a flamethrower to burn the house down and hope that the cat jumps down in fear of it’s life. It did by the way.

Another puzzle I received was to score a soccer goal against a goalie. Summon a soccer ball and kick it in. I did the first part, but when the goalie caught my ball, I summoned a gun and shot him.

That one didn’t work out quite as well. A referee was standing by to make sure that no one got severely injured on that puzzle and I had to start over.

It is strange not to be constricted by the usual rules and boundaries that exist inside of normal gaming worlds. It can be intimidating and exciting at the same time. You can use (almost) anything you want to solve any puzzle. It would be impressive for any game on any console to have this level of freedom, but the fact that it is all on the DS, a system small enough to fit in your back pocket, that makes it all the more amazing.

Scribblenauts is an interesting and well executed experiment of how gaming can be a personal and different experience for everyone. Not everyone will shoot the goalie or burn down the house, in fact, I imagine very few will, but the important thing is that you can.

Developer 5th Cell deserve praise for even attempting a project like this, and high fives all around for getting it to work. Start thinking up possible words you could write, and make sure to try out the word “time machine,” if you want to see how in depth this game truly is.

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About Kyle Hilliard
I used to be a freelancer. Now I write for Game Informer magazine. Someday, when the time is right, I will grow a mustache.

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