This puzzler is a great concept hindered only by its execution.
Scribblenauts was love at first sight. While playing the game for the first time at E3, I couldn't help but think it was one of the greatest and most ambitious ideas I had ever seen. When the game arrived at my house for review, I was still completely enamored. In one challenge, I spawned a time machine, went back in time, filled a bottle with water from a medieval moat, returned to the present, and quenched the thirst of a man in a desert. How could this not be the greatest game I had ever played? Unfortunately, as time went on I found myself less and less impressed with many of the game's concepts.
The game is a puzzle title wherein players perform some sort of designated task depending on the scenario they have launched into. Furthermore, the game has two distinct puzzle types with accompanying modes. The first puzzle type is aptly named, "Puzzle." In this mode, players must perform some task to reveal a Starite, the item that must be collected no matter the mode or level. The second type of puzzle, "Action," shows the Starite on the screen and requires players to work through the level to reach the Starite. Players accomplish their task by spawning items into a stage via an on-screen keyboard.
Each level determines performance based on how many items you use and how intelligently or originally the puzzle is solved. With this approach, players are able to replay any particular level in order to solve it in different ways. In fact, players will need to solve puzzles four different ways in order to receive a gold Starite.
Conceptually, Scribblenauts has the potential to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the execution is plagued with a variety of issues, the most egregious of which are the controls. Maxwell, the game's protagonist, is unbelievably frustrating to control. Interacting with objects seems to always be a challenge, and furthermore, just moving Maxwell around the screen is an exercise in frustration. Because Maxwell essentially follows the stylus on the touch screen, he has a tendency to fly across the screen even when you are just trying to interact with an object.
Another shortcoming is the way Maxwell interacts with many of the objects. While nearly every unlicensed word known to man will spawn an item on the screen, many of these items have no purpose, and some that should have a particular purpose fail to perform that function. For instance, a spear can not be thrown, but instead is used similarly to a baseball bat. In one challenge, I tried to use the spear to impale a piranha that needed to be killed to reveal the Starite. Rather than tossing the spear, Maxwell jumped in the water and was subsequently mauled to death by the piranha. It's these types of issues that make the game feel far less inventive and more limiting.
As players complete more and more of the game's 220 challenges, they will start to recognize patterns of items that tend to work to solve most puzzles. Due to many items not behaving as players suspect, they will often take the path of least resistance, constantly solving the puzzles with the same item set. Unfortunately, this defeats the purpose of the game and puts a damper on the general experience.
Scribblenauts is a game that begs for a sequel. The concept is still unbelievably unique, and the game does offer fleeting moments of genius and fun. A sequel would serve the series well, because it would allow 5th Cell to take their ideas and truly tighten them to the point of perfection. In the meantime, if you are prepared to deal with many annoyances but seek an original and mostly enjoyable play experience, you'll be well served by Scribblenauts.