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Super Scribblenauts

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2010


NDS Review - 'Super Scribblenauts'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 24, 2010 @ 3:21 a.m. PDT

Super Scribblenauts expands the innovative elements from the first title, offers upgraded controls and provides gamers with hours of original entertainment with ingenious, fun-filled new features.

Scribblenauts was one of the most ambitious titles ever released on the DS. It wasn't a visual powerhouse, but the gameplay had never been tried before. It offered freedom by giving the player the ability to create whatever he or she could imagine and use it to solve puzzles. While Scribblenauts was an impressive title, it had a lot of frustrating flaws. None of the flaws ruined the game, but they were enough to keep it from living up to its true potential. Wonky physics and poorly implemented stages meant that some players had more fun on the title screen than they did in the game. Super Scribblenauts is not the most impressive sequel, as it's a fairly standard update with a few new features and extra puzzles. Thanks to the bug fixes and design updates, Super Scribblenauts also manages to be a far more accessible and playable game than its predecessor.

If you haven't played the original Scribblenauts, the concept is simple. You're given control of Maxwell, a tiny 2-D "scribblenaut" who is trying to collect Starites by solving puzzles. These puzzles can range from the simple, like "rescue a baby bear" to the complex, such as building an entire city. Maxwell has the ability to create almost anything out of thin air. You type in the name of the object you want to create, and it pops into existence. The object can be anything, from candy or books to giant robots and a god. Each object interacts with other objects in unique ways, and figuring out the proper combination is essential to solving the many problems. If you encounter a monster, you can scare it away with a bigger monster, arm Maxwell with a sword and battle it, or turn it docile with a magic potion. The possibilities are nearly endless, and Super Scribblenauts puts even more power into the player's hands.

The major addition to Super Scribblenauts is adjectives. In the original game, you didn't have much control over the objects you created, but in Super Scribblenauts, you can add adjectives to the mix. Instead of just a house, you can make a large house, green house or scaly house. This allows you to tailor previously useless items to your specifications. To be fair, it isn't quite as major as it sounds. A lot of combinations are not necessary unless the game specifically requests them. You can make a giant walrus, but a regular walrus will usually do the job just fine. It's tough to fault the game for giving the player the choice to make crazy or unexpected things. Half of the fun of Super Scribblenauts is seeing what unexpected solution can be used to solve many of the game's puzzles.

Super Scribblenauts' levels are divided into a few different types. You'll mostly be dealing with puzzles and adjective levels. In puzzle levels, you're given a task to complete, and you have to do so with the aid of just about anything you can imagine. Is a baby bear being menaced by a hunter? Give him a magic potion that turns him friendly. The puzzles start off simple but gradually grow more complex as the game advances. Some puzzles task you with thinking outside the box. One has you stealing back a wedding gift during the wedding; it requires you to disguise Maxwell and figure out a way to sneak out the gift while nobody is looking. These puzzles are interesting and offer a lot of possibilities. Only a few puzzles are very difficult, but this makes the game accessible to young gamers as well as the older crowd. While it doesn't exactly qualify as an educational game, Super Scribblenauts is a great way to encourage young gamers to learn new words.

Super Scribblenauts has one seriously frustrating problem. A number of the puzzles are designed with the assumption that the player thinks of the same things as the developer. There are countless puzzles where it seems like something should work but doesn't because your train of logic doesn't match the developer's. My least favorite mission type is where you're asked to fill in missing things from a list that the game doesn't show you. For example, in one puzzle, you have to create professors to teach at a college. It sounds straightforward enough, but without buying a hint or guessing randomly, it's very difficult to guess exactly what kind of professors it expects you to generate.

In a similar stage, you're asked to decorate an empty room. I tried "table" and "bed" to great success but found that something as simple as a vase to put on the table didn't work. It doesn't help that some of the hints you can purchase or unlock are not particularly useful. Occasionally, they'll reveal exactly what the level is looking for, but sometimes, they'll just reword things slightly. If you're told to "decorate a house," the hint "What kind of items can be used to decorate a house?" doesn't actually clue you in on what does or does not qualify.

Even more annoying is when you have an idea that should work, but the game's physics won't allow it. For the most part, Super Scribblenauts' physics work as well as it needs to. Compared to the first game, Super Scribblenauts is less likely to put you in an annoying situation where something should work but doesn't. There was an early mission where I had to get a knight across a river, and I tried a lot of obvious things that didn't work. It's not because they couldn't, but the physics would screw up and the knight would fall off a boat or raft. Eventually, I took the cheap option and gave him wings, but it felt frustrating that the failure came from the game and not my own ideas. This is a problem that has been carried over from Scribblenauts, and like many aspects of the game, it's actually improved from the original. Objects now have more of a sense of weight than they did before. Heavy objects won't blow over in a light wind, and you can use things like "walls" and "mountains" far more effectively than you did in the original game.

The second most common kind of stage is an adjective stage, which is built around using a specific adjective to solve the puzzles. This usually involved creating some kind of object that matched specific traits. In one stage, you're asked to combine a princess and a witch into one thing by adding an adjective. You can solve this by creating a "beautiful witch" or a "magical princess." It's fairly straightforward, but some can be frustrating. In another level, you're tasked with creating a horror movie set, but the objective is poorly explained, and the instructions aren't very clear.  Some things that really should have fit on a horror movie set, such as a scary house, didn't seem to work. It's an extension of the problem mentioned above, where the developer's thoughts supersede the player's, only exacerbated by the addition of adjectives. To the game's credit, this doesn't happen as often as one would expect, and a lot of surprising combinations sometimes worked. I was quite pleased when the combination of "pious man" and "wings" was enough to create an angel.

Perhaps owing to the frustration caused in the original Scribblenauts, action stages are the rarest. These stages usually involve some light platforming and using Maxwell's powers and abilities to get to a location or defeat an enemy. Super Scribblenauts fixes one of the major problems from the original game: Maxwell can be controlled directly using the d-pad, which makes it a lot easier to move around. Unfortunately, action levels are still probably the weakest part of the game. The Scribblenauts engine is clearly not made for platforming and action, and it always feels awkward or strange when you try. The developers seem to have realized this, so the action stages seem less annoying than their counterparts in Scribblenauts.

Super Scribblenauts has a lot of value for your dollar. In addition to the lengthy amount of regular levels, the game also offers various merits and rewards for solving puzzles in unusual ways. Redoing stages and using different words and different adjectives can lead to some really amusing solutions and substantial rewards. You can earn Ollars, which are the game's currency and can be used to purchase various extras, like new playable characters or in-stage hints.

The game also supports a custom level editor. You can create your own levels using a few templates and trade them over Wi-Fi with friends. These custom levels are pretty simplistic but add extra value to the game if you have friends with Super Scribblenauts. Just like the original game, you can use the title screen as a "blank slate" to play around with items. The game is about using your imagination, so it lasts until you get bored. It's tough to judge how long that will take for most players, but the endless variety of items and creatures makes it a great toy for a younger kid.

Visually, not a lot has changed in Super Scribblenauts. Some of the visuals are a little cleaner, and there's greater item variety, but that is about the only noticeable difference in the game's graphics. Everything still has a simple and cheerful design, and that makes various characters and items stand out rather distinctively. There's recycling among the various scribbled items, but not enough to get bothersome. It would be nice if "scientist" and "nerd" didn't share the same head, but it isn't overly distracting during the actual gameplay. Perhaps the closest I can come to a complaint is that it is sometimes difficult to identify what something is, but a built-in magnifying glass tool instantly identifies any object for you, including its adjective.

Super Scribblenauts is about as straightforward of a sequel as you can get. It's almost easier to compare to an expansion pack than a full-fledged sequel. There are improvements and mechanical updates, but nothing really changes the entire experience. Even the adjective feature is more of a neat bonus. These updates and mechanical changes did a lot to make Super Scribblenauts a more accessible game than its predecessor. Levels are better designed, movement is easier, and more of the awkward elements of the original game have been smoothed out. There are still a number of flaws and problems carried over from the first tile, but the most serious and frustrating problems have been fixed or toned down. Super Scribblenauts isn't a perfect game, but it's a unique and exciting puzzle game that lives up to the promise of the original.

Score: 8.5/10

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