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Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2009 (US), Sept. 25, 2009 (EU)

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NDS Preview - 'Scribblenauts'

by Rainier on Jan. 1, 2006 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

In Scribblenauts the player uses the NDS touch-screen to help his character, Maxwell, acquire the starite in each level by solving a series of puzzles. In order complete each puzzle, players will use the stylus and notepad to write down the word for any object that comes to mind in order to reach the goal.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: 5TH Cell
Release Date: September 15, 2009

5TH Cell is perhaps the best DS game developer that no one has heard of. They've only developed a few games, but those games have been fun and innovative, making excellent use of the DS' various features to create games that would not be the same anywhere else. Drawn to Life was a platformer designed around creating your own character, while Lock's Quest was a combination tower defense and hack-and-slash game. Their upcoming game, Scribblenauts, is easily their most ambitious to date, and the mere concept of it is so ridiculous that it's very easy to scoff at as an idea that is too large to work, especially on a system like the DS. From what we saw at E3, 5TH Cell is on its way to creating one of the most innovative and interesting games in a long time.

The concept of Scribblenauts is fairly simple: You have your main character, Maxwell, and he is the only thing you can directly control on-screen. Your goal is to find Starites that are located somewhere in the level, and you must figure out a way to get to them. Each level has a specific goal that you must complete in order to get the Starite. Some are simple, such as reaching a Starite located on a high platform, while others are complex, such as having to protect an ally as he makes his way through a swarm of zombies. No matter what, your goal is to get the Starite. The complexity comes from the fact that Maxwell has the ability to create whatever he wants, wherever he wants. This may sound like an exaggeration, but he has a tremendous library of tools available to him. To activate his power, you "type" the name of the object you want to create on a electronic keyboards using the DS' stylus. Whatever you type, you create. The game can even recognize multiple terms for single objects. Type "cloud," and you can clarify if it is a rain cloud or a regular cloud, for example.

We were able to test this out in a few of the game's stages. The first stage had Maxwell placed before a large group of men in uniform: a chef, a cop, a fireman, etc. Our goal was to create something that each of these men would use in his job. For the cop, we create a pistol, for the fireman a hose, and for the chef, a pan. It was a simple little mission, and we succeeded with ease. The next mission was more complex, as we had to help a man who was dying of thirst in the desert. You could create a bucket of water, make an oasis, or even create a raincloud to help him.

The final mission we got to try was the hardest of the lot: the aforementioned zombie mission. We had to help a character get from the left side of the screen, through a horde of zombies, to a helicopter waiting on the right side. It wasn't as easy as it sounded, since the zombies were fast and aggressive, and if they touched the person, the victim was instantly turned into a zombie and we failed the stage. Fortunately, there were a lot of options available to us, including "pistol," "wall" or, my personal favorite, "chainsaw." You could give weapons to the person or have Maxwell wield them himself to stop the zombies. It's all perfectly cheerful and E-rated, of course. Each puzzle is also going to have a "challenge" mode, where you're tasked with completing the same puzzle multiple times, except you're not allowed to reuse words you've used before, thereby forcing you to look at the puzzle in new ways.

After trying those, we got a bit of hands-on time with Free mode, where we could create what we wanted at will. Having just seen some things about God of War 3, I decided to fool around and try "Zeus." Unfortunately, it didn't work, but the demonstrator nearby was quick to mention that Zeus would be present in the final build of the game. I took the next best step and wrote "God," which created a rather traditional bearded man in robes. Still having Sony's latest in my head, I countered "God" with "Titan," which promptly created a tremendous giant figure. While I figured out what to write next, the fun started. God walked over to the Titan and kicked it, and the two of them promptly began to fight. The Titan smooshed God and began to chase after Maxwell, and I was forced to run away, frantically scribbling down things to stop it. Ladders, rocks, walls, all seemed futile in my attempt to stop the monster. Eventually, boxed in a corner, I decided to go whole hog and counter the Titan with "Spartan." This, naturally, created a burly man who took the fight to the Titan, while I quickly used the chance to have Maxwell escape. It was absolutely hilarious and fun just to see what happened with the random objects I created. I could easily seem myself spending hours or more writing down various tools and characters and seeing how they interacted.

With that said, the game wasn't quite flawless yet. It was a bit difficult to get the characters to interact with the items you created, although the E3 game floor was not the most ideal place to test this out. This was especially noticeable during the intense zombie mission, where trying to create a chainsaw and then equip and use it before the zombies munched on my escort was extremely difficult, to the point where it didn't appear as if anyone else who played Scribblenauts on the floor had been able to complete it before I got there. The demonstrator seemed very confident in the dictionary and even challenged me to find words that didn't work. There were a few words that the game just didn't recognize at all. Most of these were obscure oddities that I frankly wasn't expecting the game to know, but I did a double take when the game didn't recognize "Valkyrie" as a valid choice. As mentioned, however, there are more things being added to the game before its release, and it's entirely possible some of these missing choices will be in the final version.

Scribblenauts is shaping up to be a must-have title for any DS gamer, regardless of age or playing ability. Its innovation is impressive and respectable, but most importantly, it was just plain fun. Of all the games on the showroom floor, it was the one that I most wanted more time with. The ability to create whatever my mind could fathom was surprisingly addictive, and the in-game dictionary is large and varied. The game is solid and fun, and there seems to be an almost infinite number of ways to solve any problem that the game tosses at you. Scribblenauts might be worthwhile just for its ability to create ridiculous and hilarious situations. It might be a simple-looking 2-D DS title, but Scribblenauts is up there with the best at this year's E3.

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