The original Scribblenauts was a game built around a very simple yet powerful premise: the possibility of conjuring up into existence fully interactive objects by merely writing their names down. This concept, more appropriate of an obscure medieval alchemy text than of a modern electronic handheld, was actually fairly well met in the original title. Be it a pair of scissors or a voracious werewolf, one just had to type it down and almost invariably it would pop into the screen. A player really had to look very hard to find objects that could not be conjured via this mechanism. So why, then, was that game evaluated with such lukewarm disappointment by reviewers and players alike?
The issue was that the creators of the original Scribblenauts focused so much on delivering on their ambitious promise that they neglected many other crucial aspects of gameplay. The result was a clunky game with an unfortunate control scheme. The good news is that the creators at 5th Cell learned from their mistakes and took pains to address all these issues with the release of the aptly named sequel, Super Scribblenauts. Maxwell is no longer a clumsy oaf, but a powerful being with an everyman appeal; objects now bear more realistic behavior and no longer can you ride a Pteranodon to solve a fifth of all riddles by simply flying over the obstacles. Indeed, Super Scribblenauts is the game everybody hoped to see when the original Scribblenauts hit stores the first time around.
Two improvements in particular stand out. The first is that you can now use the D-pad to control Maxwell while you manipulate the world around him with the stylus. Maxwell’s days of senseless cliff jumping and lava pit diving are mercifully over thanks to this much needed separation. Now you can let him stand aside while the riddle solving sorcery takes place and only involve him if necessary. The other detail is that the physics that govern Maxwell’s universe have improved and make more sense now. Conjured elements don’t just pile up senselessly on the screen (the famous case of the mountain flipping over after dropping on top of a TV). There is a better sense of depth, with houses, trees and hills falling on the background while people and tools land in the fore. Of course, there is still some way to go here (islands still ‘float around’ in the water, for example).
Also noteworthy is that the creators didn’t simply settle with fixing old problems with the release of Super Scribblenauts, they actually upped the stakes by adding a new radical element to the magic: adjectives. Now, if you need a T-Rex, you can demand that it also be feathered and yellow. The best part is that many of the riddles can only be solved by carefully adding the proper adjectives to an object.
Super Scribblenauts, just like its predecessor, is a game of stand alone situational riddles with no underlying narrative or plot to unify them. For instance, in one riddle you are confronted with an evil sorceress in a duel of monster conjuring abilities. In the next you may be a spy trying to steal information at an elegant party. The structure of the riddles has improved though, and they require more creative and varied approaches to be solved now. There are many, many ways to solve these puzzles. Everyone playing the game will have their own way to success.
The game also debuts a hint system that you can unlock by using ‘ollars’ (Super Scribblenauts' official currency) gained during prior missions. The hint system is very well implemented and is a very welcome helping hand for some of the trickier puzzles. Unfortunately, it’s not infallible, and sometimes it won’t give you the precise information you were hoping for. I discovered this on a challenge where I had to discover who lived in each house of a neighborhood and then provide each with a gift appropriate to their tastes. I had no problem solving the riddle to find out who lived where, but failed to discover a good gift for the last person. When I went ahead and used a few ollars to open the hints I discovered that all three hints referred to finding the inhabitants of the house and there were no suggestions regarding the gifts.
The objective of each puzzle is to obtain a symbolic gold star called a ‘Starite’. Each collected ‘Starite’ is added to a constellation in the night sky. With each new ‘Starite’ that's added to the constellation, new slots open up for future Starites to be placed in. Each open slot represents a new puzzle to solve. Aside from the Starite, each solved puzzle grants the player a variable amount of ollars which can be traded for hints or used to buy new disguises for Maxwell.
Super Scribblenauts offers few presentational changes with regards to the previous title. The art style is still intentionally cartoonish and flat, with characters and scenarios that look as if they've been drawn by a 5 year old. The background music selection is limited to the same two short jingles we’ve been hearing at the beginning and end of each mission since the first title. The game doesn’t have all that many modes, and the lack of a multi-player is especially noticeable. The AI, however, is where Super Scribblenauts shines. The system is capable not only of conjuring up literally thousands of objects, but is also able to make each of these items fully interactive and even add special traits to them via the use of adjectives. That’s a remarkable achievement for any handheld game.
Super Scribblenauts has enormous replay value. There are over 120 riddles in the main game. Also, you can ‘crown’ a Starite by solving the same riddle three times using different objects (crowned Starites offer a few additional ollars, but are mainly desirable as a trophy achievement). Super Scribblenauts' main hook, however, is its enormous potential as a sandbox for the imagination. Ever wondered who would win in a duel between a ‘small enchanted dragon’ and a ‘courageous robotic chicken’? Here you can try it, and the best part is that no innocent real creature gets hurt in the process. Scribblenauts is just that kind of experience, capable of taking you virtually as far as you’re willing to go. If you like clever but not awfully complicated puzzle games, you will like this title. On the other hand, if you have a healthy and active imagination and the will to let it fly, Super Scribblenauts is the game you’ve waited for your whole life.
Super Scribblenauts - Review
By Gabriel Franco, November 25, 2010
Super Scribblenauts - DS
Presentation - 8.5
Gameplay - 9.0
Value - 9.0
Gameplay - 9.0
Value - 9.0
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