Super Scribblenauts

It was in my DS for only minutes before it became abundantly clear why Super Scribblenauts isn’t called Scribblenauts 2. This doesn’t feel as much like a sequel to Scribblenauts as it does a better version of exactly the same game. It’s Scribblenauts 1.1.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although I do worry about a world in which this became the popular model; already gamers complain about day-one patches and ongoing bugs that get ironed out of games throughout their life. What has happened here is a little different, but we could still be living in a dark and scary world if all sequels merely fixed what was wrong with their predecessors without going much further. Anyway, I speculate. I digress. Those are both verbs. You won’t find them in Super Scribblenauts.

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This game is almost exclusively about the noun; that is, almost. The goal of the original game was to conjure objects into the level to help your character - Maxwell - obtain a Starite (star). The tagline was “Write anything. Solve everything.” It was a completely unique idea, and executed well-ish, although it got a bit boring. The bank of nouns available was in the tens of thousands, but you pretty much ended up using “jetpack” for everything. Super Scribblenauts comes jammed with all of those wonderful objects and more (about 1000 more) but also includes adjectives. So you can have, you know, a gold jetpack if you want.

I am being a little trite there; the addition of adjectives actually means the entire scope of the game has been able to shift to enable the developers to create new kinds of challenges. It also allows the player to be much more free and zany with their ideas; where before you could conjure a vampire or a koala, now you can create a vampire-koala. What you’d use this for is up for debate, but the point is that the option is there.

I said in my E3 write up (a quick 20 minute hands-on overseen by the game’s Creative Director) that the controls had been fixed. This is no small thing. Now you can control Maxwell with either the stylus or the D-pad, and both work well. After the frustrations of the first game, I am sure many will opt for the D-pad for safety’s-sake, but I actually find myself using the stylus, and controlling the camera with the D-pad. The A, B, X and Y buttons also control the camera, so if you’re a lefty or a D-pad user, you have the same options for smooth, swift control. It really does make the whole experience that much more pleasurable.

Disappointingly, the quite complex (good) level editor isn’t that intuitive (bad). This basically sections it off from those kids for whom Super Scribblenauts could be such an important game creatively and cognitively. Leveraging again off that E3 write up I did (why reinvent the wheel?) a guy at the show thanked Jeramiah Slaczka for teaching his daughter how to read. Now, children and their parents will still be able to squeeze every last drop out of Super Scribblenauts in this regard - in fact, even more so, with the addition of all those adjectives. But the level editor will be too complicated for many of them to use to its full extent. Simple leap-over-the-gap type levels will be okay, but I should say that only (dedicated) adult gamers will be able to use it well. The good news is that there is a good amount of variety here, and the ability to share your creations could potentially (if you had a couple of like-minded/dedicated friends) lengthen the life of Super Scribblenauts indefinitely.

Adding to the longevity is that each of the 120 levels can be solved however many times you like; some reward you for repeating them using different objects. Each time you use a new word in Super Scribblenauts, you'll be rewarded with Ollars (this doesn't change from the original) with which you can buy avatars (zombies, skeletons, warriors) and swap out Maxwell. You can also use Ollars to buy hints in the different levels, but as the time ticks away these become available free. The other collectibles spurring you on are Merits. These can be awarded for a range of achievements, such as earning certain amounts of money, buying a new avatar, using a certain number of unique adjectives, or getting a certain number of Starites.

The graphics and the sound remain more or less identical to the first game; very much an “if it ain't broke don't fix it,” approach. This is fine, but again it points to 5th Cell setting out only to make Super Scribblenauts into what Scribblenauts should have been. You might also look to the tagline, where they've changed just one word; the “new” one is Create anything. Solve everything.”

It's impossible to deny that Super Scribblenauts improves on its predecessor in almost every important way, and remains definitively at home on the DS (a brilliant console for this kind of title). The handwriting engine is probably the only truly vexing part of the original that didn't get fixed. Ls become Cs, all my Gs are As. It's a pig of a thing – just avoid it and use the good old QWERTY keyboard.

The thing is, games are all products of their time: Scribblenauts succeeded despite its flaws because back then it was pure, original inspiration. Super Scribblenauts isn't. If this game had been released back when the post E3 2009 furore was still swirling, then it would have been an easy 9.5 or above. Being that it feels a bit like an apology, a score like that simply can't be justified.

But it still gets a healthy thumbs up simply for what it is; a great game. Especially for those who never played the original, but found the idea sort of appealing, Super Scribblenauts will almost certainly be a delight.

"Who let the Starites out?"
- Super Scribblenauts
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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