I learned today from 5th Cell creative director and co-founder, Jeramiah Slaczka, who coached me through my Scribblenauts 2 hands on, that the original game had been meant for casual gamers. “It's a DS game,” he said, by way of explanation, and added that those that got bored with it were mostly game journos. Scribblenauts was never meant to be a game for the core; E3 2009 saw that it got rolled into the hype machine and churned around until it became one of the year's most eagerly anticipated titles.
Well, the reviews were mixed. NZGamer.com gave it a 8.5/10 – a high score that was based heavily on its pure, simple, and yet uniquely inspired gameplay mechanic: you write stuff, it appears, you can use it. But the reason for up and down scores and commentary around the globe was how quickly this premise gets old. How quickly? Too quickly.
About 1000 new items have been added to Super Scribblenauts; even that many is pretty impressive. It's been less than year since the first game hit stores, and we know that 5th Cell had employees devoted to scouring the internet and good old fashioned paper dictionaries to ensure nothing was left out of the formidable noun-bank. How many new nouns could have possible cropped up in the English language during that time? Apparently lots. Heaps as.
The game also boasts a set of adjectives; we're no longer limited to “chair” - we can have a metal chair, a wooden chair. If that's all a bit vanilla, then use it only as a guide. As with the first game, the only limit is your imagination. Although, it seems that could be pretty limiting. The first level in my hands on required me to bribe a number of people in different professions to get them out of a line so I could cutsies to the front and get a new game console (quite well suited to E3, actually). I gave the delivery man mail, but got stuck on the body builder. I went for baby oil and it wasn't recognised by the game. Spinach didn't work, so there was no Popeye connection (I ended up accidentally giving it to the artist, and it worked for her, so she must have been some kind of tree hugger). In the end, I went for weights, just to be done with it – the most obvious choice.
Other new features include a hint system, where you buy ideas to help you progress. The hints work through different levels, so you can pay more for better tips on how to best a certain puzzle. A new level editor is also included.
And the most important question – have the controls been improved? No. Not just improved. Better than that: they've been fixed. Admittedly, I only played for about 20 minutes, but in that time I had no difficulties moving Maxwell through his environments with either the stylus or D-pad (which is brand new functionality, and works a treat). Players now have a choice to use whatever works for them; very welcome indeed.
Slaczka told me that even with the new one on the way, the original game is selling “truckloads”. Funnily enough, the NZ rep for Warner Bros also measured the game's success in terms of its sales, telling me (so I could pass on to Slaczka like the greasy antipodean I am) that it spent nine consecutive weeks as the best selling DS game in New Zealand.
I find myself getting excited all over again when I look at what's possible with Super Scribblenauts – here's hoping it delivers on the unfulfilled promises of its predecessor, especially when it comes to longevity. As for the game's mainstream success, it's hard to deny its impact when people rush on up to Slaczka as one man did today, pump his hand vigorously and proclaim, “Your game taught my daughter how to read! Thank you!”