The concept of ‘playing God’ – creating and destroying anything at your will – is surely the nirvana to which all games have been aiming towards. Imagine, if you will, during a particularly intense bout of online Modern Warfare gunplay, possessing the ability to call mythical winged-horse Pegasus to send you soaring above your enemies, whilst Lovecraftian tyrant Cthulhu does all the dirty work for you. Surely every gamer’s fantasy! In theory, therefore, Scribblenauts should be considered a gaming landmark, seeing as it allows you to do just that.
The third DS title from indie developers 5th Cell, Scribblenauts is a game in which you can recall practically anything at the stroke of a stylus. Want to destroy a giant crab with a VHS recorder? Not only is it entirely possible here, it’s practically encouraged. You can even feed black pudding to a gorilla! In fact, Scribblenauts goes way beyond merely ‘playing God’. Here you can literally kill God. Repeatedly, if you so wish.
It’s a shame, then, that the gameplay itself rarely lives up to this enticing premise. Essentially a puzzle game, Scribblenauts offers up a variety of over 200 challenges, which can only be solved by the creation of various items. Simply type the name of the item you wish to summon into an in-game notepad and it will appear. The challenges are split into two different modes: Puzzle, in which you must perform a certain task or conjure a certain object in order to succeed, and Action, in which you have to overcome various obstacles in order to reach the game’s prize stars, similar to platform games.
Each level you pass earns you a fistful of Ollars – the in-game currency – which can then be used to purchase further puzzles or, if you are inclined, different avatars to play the game with. Each challenge has a par for the number of items you create. The fewer items you use to solve the challenge, the more Ollars you earn.
The gameplay is incredibly addictive, yet is hampered by wildly inconsistent levels of difficulty. Puzzles that require an amount of logic that would make God’s brain implode (which, with a correctly placed landmine, can also be done in this game) are slotted seemingly at random between laughably easy ones – throwing a ball at a baseball player, for instance – at an almost patronising degree.
The most frustrating aspect of Scribblenauts, however, is the controls. The game makes no use of the D-pad, meaning everything is controlled via the touch screen. Unfortunately, this, more often than not, leads to Maxwell, the game’s mascot, falling to his death. For instance, if you try and drag a spade to Maxwell, but miss by a matter of millimetres, the game will interpret this as an instruction to move, frequently with disastrous consequences (you will lose count of the amount of times Maxwell will tumble into a pool of lava).
The lack of a story mode is also a disappointment. Without any sort of inter-linking theme, each isolated puzzle can seem ultimately pointless after hours of play. But now we’re just being pernickety.
All things considered, Scribblenauts is worth buying purely for the enjoyment of pushing the game’s ambitious premise to the limit. Despite the frustratingly substandard gameplay, the concept itself never falls becomes gimmicky. You can never get tired of searching for the most ridiculous item possible, or pitting any number of mythical or religious creatures against each other in a fight to the death. It’s just a shame that, in Scribblenauts, it’s more fun to be God than to play God.
Scribblenauts is out now.