Scribblenauts

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Bob Hoose

Game Review

If you’ve ever played any sort of video game for longer than, say, 45 minutes, this phrase has run through your head: “If only I had a ________.” You’re in a tight spot, and that blank could be anything from a skeleton key to a flame thrower to a bull elephant.

I mean, imagine how many digital conundrums could be quickly solved with the help of a loyal elephant.

Well, that’s exactly what Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS wants you to do: Imagine your way out of any situation with whatever comes to mind. The idea is simple. You play as a kid named Maxwell who has the ability to grab his super fantastic writing pad and summon up just about anything from an atom bomb to a zebra to make his way through about a gazillion puzzles. Well, it’s closer to 200, but you get the idea.

Creative Writing …
The goal is to collect something called a starite in each level. And the game is divided into two distinct level types: action and puzzle. The action levels generally place Maxwell on one side of the touch screen and challenge you to figure out what he’ll need to make his way over, up, under or around to the other side and collect his prize. It’s not an easy task! You might have to make it across a lake full of man-eating piranhas. You might have to evade a horde of deep-sea diving zombies.

The puzzle levels usually take even more brain racking, such as figuring out which guy in a room full of people is a thief or a murderer.

The tool you and Maxwell use is that special writing pad I mentioned. Just about anything you write on it appears right before your eyes and sits waiting for your use. Weapons, animals, famous people, household utensils, forces of nature—if you can dream it up it’s probably in the game’s internal dictionary. Need a bungee cord or a pair of wings to leap safely to the bottom of a chasm? You’ve got it. Need a T. rex to ride to the rescue? Climb aboard. The pad recognizes a bazillion different objects. OK, maybe it’s closer to a thousand, but it’s a lot. And the goofy joy comes in overcoming the obstacles placed before you in the most efficient or oddly creative way.

Of course, finding one solution to a puzzle can be easy. If you want extra credit and a bigger test, go back and find three completely different ways to make your way through. In fact, you can conquer your challenges in as many different ways as your imagination and vocabulary can manage. Hey, the pad even let me call “My Mom” into action at one point. And you know how determined moms can be when help is needed.

… With No Bad Words
There’s not really much downside to speak of here—other than the fact that sometimes the game might be just a tad too flexible. (Should you really be able to summon “God” just so you can smack down a bothersome bee?) None of your choices ever result in anything nasty or truly offensive. In fact, if you try to spell out crudities or anything rude or sexual, the game refuses to respond. Maxwell simple ignores the request and stands ready to make a more responsible choice.

Violence is allowed but downplayed. Even if Maxwell makes a misstep and falls off a mountain or is attacked by a herd of rampaging rhinos, the result is little more than x’s on his eyes, an “uh oh” and another try. You can detonate that atom bomb I mentioned earlier, but the result is only a flash, some smoke and a redo.

That means DS-equipped kids who write Scribblenauts on their wish lists (Christmas or otherwise) just might end up seeing a game appear right before their eyes—courtesy of parents who are grateful to finally find a handheld game that’s not only fun but also mentally stimulating and cleanly creative.

Bob Hoose
Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.

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