Scribblenauts Hands-On: We’re Gonna Need A Smaller Sub

Scribblenauts Hands-On: We’re Gonna Need A Smaller Sub

scribblenauts-01-minigunThere’s more to Scribblenauts than a five-way brawl between a pirate, monkey, ninja, zombie and robot. There are puzzles, too.

Earlier this week I sat down to play Scribblenauts, the DS puzzle game from Drawn To Life developer 5th Cell. The concept is simple: you enter a word and it’ll appear in the world. Of course, it’s sensibly limited to physical objects, and nearly everything you can think of is included, unless it’s copyrighted or a real person.

You can read all about my time in the sandbox mode here, where I entered a whole bunch of words suggested by Kotaku readers. Today, I’ll focus on some of the puzzles I played through.

One of the first I tried was set in a one-room house during a kids birthday party. A pinata hangs in the middle of the room and it’s your task to help the birthday boy break it. The obvious solution would be to give the boy (or yourself) some sort of stick or bat and smash the pinata. Too obvious, I thought.

So I typed in “Trebuchet”.

A miniature trebuchet appeared in the room. I positioned it near the pinata and tapped on the use function. It launched a rock that smacked into the hapless pinata, bursting it instantly. Hurrah!

Scribblenauts encourages you to get creative by dropping you back into the same puzzle even if you’ve completed it. The idea is that you gain extra rewards by solving each puzzle in different ways, using different objects.

Replaying this puzzle, I typed in “Boomerang”. I was able to throw the boomerang at the pinata, and after several hits it eventually relinquished its candy-flavoured innards. On a third attempt, I typed in “Shuriken” and targeted my ninja weapon at the rope attaching the pinata to the ceiling. It sliced straight through, the pinata splatting satisfactorily on the floor.

A second puzzle I played featured an island on which my avatar and a cat were located. To the left, three swans swam in the water, while to the right, across a similar stretch of water, an ugly duckling perched at the top of a cliff. A tunnel ran underneath the island to connect the two bodies of water. My goal: to reunite the ugly duckling with the swans… without harming the cat.

scribblenauts-19-cow-cI typed in “Wings”. Paul McCartney didn’t appear (no real people!) but I was able to attach a set of feathered wings to my back and fly over the water to the cliff. I picked up the ugly duckling and flew back to the far shore of the island and deposited the duckling with its swan friends.

For my second attempt I could have easily done something similar with, say, a helicopter or a magic carpet. Instead I wanted to try something totally different. A few experiments with constructing a bridge over the water or filling the entire lake with landfill ended in amusing failures. Another, involving tranquillising the cat in case it attacked the birds, well… the less said about that, the better.

In the end, I jumped into the water and swam over to the cliff. From there, I typed in “Grappling hook”, thinking I’d use it to climb up the cliff. By accident, however, I snagged it onto the duckling and managed to pull it down into the water with me. Oops. I still needed to get to the swans, and I couldn’t go back to the island with the cat there. I typed in “Submarine” and jumped inside, but unfortunately the sub proved too large to fit through the underground tunnel. So I went with some scuba gear that allowed me to swim underwater, dragging the duckling via the grappling hook behind me.

My third attempt used the same idea. Instead of a grappling hook, I opted to lasso the duckling directly. Then I made a dolphin appear and both the duckling and I hitched a ride across to the swans.

By solving both puzzles with entirely new objects each time, I unlocked extra rewards. I even scored a higher bonus for being the first person using this particular DS cart to enter the words “lasso” and “trebuchet”. Scribblenauts really does reward experimentation.

It’s important to emphasise that: this is a game all about creativity and experimentation. As a puzzle game it doesn’t seem too taxing, and in most cases, an easy solution will immediately spring to mind. You could probably play through much of the game, sticking to a conservative set of objects and completing each task in the most straightforward manner. But you’d be doing the game a disservice.

Scribblenauts is a surprisingly demanding game. Unlike a lot of contemporary titles, it doesn’t spoonfeed the player. It gives you all the tools you need, but it requires you to generate the ideas to make all those tools work in combination. It demands imagination. The real joy is in asking “what if…?” at every opportunity and then grinning like a fool as the game (most of the time) indulges your whimsical nature.

I played one more puzzle where I found myself outside a house in the company of three wicked witches on Halloween. My task: “Trick or Treat?” I took a step away from the witches, typed in bulldozer and drove it over the top of them.


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