Video Game Review: Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

Scribblenauts
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Emergent, Puzzle, Action
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: September 15, 2009

Scribblenauts is a perfect example of a game with tremendous potential yet unsatisfying execution. This DS puzzler presents a world full of possibilities, with the only limit being your imagination.

The goal is simple: you are given an objective, and you must find a way to complete this by writing in words, which then appear on screen in their physical forms. Let’s say, theoretically, that the “starite” (the item you need to get to) is on the other side of a lake. You can get there in a number of ways, of course. You could write in “boat” and take that across to the other side. You could get a pair of wings and fly over, or you could get a snorkel and swim across. This is a very basic example, but you get the idea.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

There are a whopping 200+ stages in the game, evenly split up into “puzzle” and “action” stages. Puzzle stages require something to be solved, whereas action levels are more versed in side-scrolling platforming gameplay. Stages are ranked on a four-star difficulty system, so you have a good idea of how challenging a certain level will be. If that’s not enough, there is even an option to create your own level, or just mess around in a sandbox area and try out different words to see what they do. It’s incredible that 5th Cell managed to fit all of this into a DS cartridge, especially considering there are more than 10,000 words in its dictionary.

On the technical side of things, there is no doubt that Scribblenauts is impressive. Unfortunately, there are major issues that severely hamper gameplay. The biggest problem rests squarely on the control system. The main character, Maxwell, is a bitch to move around. You control him by tapping the stylus on screen, but he is very lackadaisical in his movements. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I tried to get him to move to a certain platform, only for him to fall off over and over again. It’s also difficult to pick up items and/or interact with them sometimes. There are moments where the “item taps” will register as an empty space, often creating situations where Maxwell falls to his death. This is all beyond frustrating, and it could have been fixed with a simple solution: just let the character be moved with the D-Pad! As it stands, the game only uses the D-Pad to move the camera from side-to-side. Everything else uses the stylus, which just doesn’t work as it should. Very disappointing.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

There are also problems with the game’s vocabulary. While the sheer amount of words available is staggering, most of the puzzles can be solved with the same basic items. I found myself using the same words over and over again: jetpack, wings, cord. While the game begs for gamers to be creative, why would I want to take the time to type out something infinitely more complex, especially when the game rewards you for finishing a stage quickly? Simple, tried-and-true techniques seem to work best here.

Also, every word available comes in a one-size-fits-all package. There is no way to get a longer rope or a larger blanket. You have to work around the size that the game gives you. This causes seemingly logical solutions to not work at all, even when they should theoretically.

It’s a shame that Scribblenauts was released with so many inherent flaws. The concept is, frankly, brilliant, and it evokes powerful feelings to have the ability to write anything you want and have it appear on screen. There’s still a decent and playable game underneath, but I can’t help but feel that this game could have truly been something special. There is a sequel now available that claims to have improved controls, but I’m not sure I will bother with that one. As it stands, Scribblenauts is a technical marvel but a mediocre game.

6/10

Quick & Dirty #9: Limitless, No Strings Attached and Plants vs. Zombies

Time for another batch of quick writeups/reviews. Next week will be plentiful with lots of full reviews, and some more movie project posts.

MOVIES
No Strings Attached [2011]
No Strings Attached [2011]
I thought since Natalie Portman was in this that it might be better than your typical romantic comedy. Sadly, no, that is not the case here. This is standard romcom garbage that follows the usual formula right down to a T. Ashton Kutcher and others involved managed to drag Portman right down to their level, and the end result is an utter debacle. Why, Natalie, why?? 4/10

Limitless [2011]
Limitless [2011]
This was a fun movie with a great concept and some really interesting camerawork. I’m not a huge Bradley Cooper fan, but he did a good job in the lead role here. The story had a lot of plot holes, some more glaring than others, which dragged it down a bit, but it was still an entertaining ride. It seems like a lot of people didn’t like the ending, but I thought it was pretty clever myself. Not a great movie, but still enjoyable. 7/10

VIDEO GAMES
Altered Beast [PS3]
Altered Beast [PS3]
Gary’s review at the Vortex Effect inspired me to check out this Genesis “classic”, although I don’t think that was his intent. This side-scrolling beat ’em up is just as poor as I remember with sluggish gameplay and cheap enemy hits. It still has that cheesy charm, though, with such classic lines as “WISE FROM YOUR GWAVE!”. Still, it’s a bizarre choice to include in Sega’s Vintage Collection, at least in terms of quality.

Astro Tripper [PS3]
Astro Tripper [PS3]
This shoot ’em up was released for free this week via Playstation Plus, and I had never heard of it before. It’s pretty simple: you control a spaceship on a small playing field, with the goal being to shoot everything in sight before time runs out. There are buttons to change direction and change weapons, but that’s about the extent of it. I liked what I played of it, but I got stuck at the third level’s boss battle. I have never been good at shmups, so that’s on me, but the good news is that I am intrigued enough to continue playing in an effort to get better.

Fallout: New Vegas [Xbox 360]
Fallout: New Vegas [Xbox 360]
I just beat this game for the first time this week. I am going to reload my “master save” and finish the other endings, and I will have a full review after that. In a nutshell, I greatly enjoyed my time in the Mojave Wasteland, although I still ran into some glitches and other problems that were supposedly fixed in some of the (many) patches.

Plants vs. Zombies [PS3]
Plants vs. Zombies [PS3]
I bought the iOS version of this to keep me occupied on the airplane when I traveled to Europe last year. I enjoyed it then, though I found the gameplay to be tedious after a while. The PS3 version is identical as far as I can tell, and I am getting back into it. It’s more addictive than I remembered — perhaps my gaming tastes have evolved a little since then — and I can’t wait to unlock all of its features. Good stuff, and I’m glad it was released as a freebie on PS+.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]
Scribblenauts [DS]
I have been playing this on and off again, and unfortunately it is starting to lose its initial appeal. I have found that I can complete most of the puzzles with the same select words, and I still have problems with the main character’s sloppy controls. I am about halfway through the game so far, and will be writing a full review upon completion.

Quick & Dirty #7: Kaboom, Kill the Irishman, Scribblenauts and more

It’s time for another roundup of what I have seen/played lately.

MOVIES

Kaboom [2011, Araki]
Kaboom [2011, Araki]
One of the worst movies I have seen in a while. With a convoluted sci-fi plot as its base, Kaboom meanders all over the place by including random and unnecessary casual sex encounters. Actually, these sex scenes are all the movie has going for it in terms of entertainment. The rest of the movie is a scrambled mess with weak dialogue and wasted acting talent. Araki tries too hard to be David Lynch here and ultimately comes across as a poor imitation. 3/10

Kill the Irishman [2011, Hensleigh]
Kill the Irishman [2011, Hensleigh]
Crime drama about the life of Danny Greene, an Irish-American mobster who was both directly and indirectly involved with a ton of car bombings in 1970s Cleveland. Ray Stevenson delivers a solid performance as Greene, and there are some solid supporting roles from Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer as well (though it must be stated that they aren’t on screen nearly as much as the trailer and promo material would suggest). The movie doesn’t try anything new and it could have used much better development for certain characters, but it’s still a decent enough gangster movie. 6/10

Me and You and Everyone We Know [2005, July]
Me and You and Everyone We Know [2005, July]
I dug this quirky indie dramedy, but not quite as much as Roger Ebert, who named this as one of the top ten movies of the last decade. There is a lot to like about this movie, including John Hawkes and some great performances from the child actors. While some of the sequences fell flat, there were some genuinely hilarious moments such as the online interactions between two children and an anonymous stranger. I felt like the Miranda July tried too hard with some of the proceedings, but I still liked the movie’s eccentricities. 7/10

VIDEO GAMES

2010 FIFA World Cup [PSP, 2010]
2010 FIFA World Cup [PSP, 2010]
I got sucked back into World Cup fever after the USA Women’s team’s excellent run this year, and ended up picking this game back up. It brought back a lot of memories, and I have had a blast guiding the men’s Team USA through the tournament. I am looking forward to trying out the “Captain Your Country” mode in which you create your own player and lead them to greatness. The game’s got a pretty diverse soundtrack, and the vuvuzelas add to the atmosphere (for better or for worse). I am digging it, as it is pretty good as far as portable sports games go.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]
Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]
This little game intrigued me when I first heard about it back in 2009, but I just now got my hands on it. The concept is pretty cool, no doubt, since it allows you to type in any word you can think of to solve puzzles. I just started playing and have only completed a handful of the first level’s puzzles, but I am enjoying it so far. Some of the controls seem a little touchy, such as climbing up ladders and using items from that, but that’s not a huge issue. I look forward to digging into some of the more challenging levels.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]
This is the first Silent Hill I have played since the original PSOne title. Apparently this is a “re-imagining” of said game, although it feels a lot different than I remember. I like the psychological aspects of this, but the lack of combat reduces the scare factor quite a bit. I am enjoying it so far, but it’s not blowing me away.