Is it bad form to apologize on a blog for a lack of updates? I think it may be, but I still feel responsible to anyone who happens to wonder to this site. So, if you visited this weekend, I apologize that only my lame eldritch horror drawings were there to greet you. It won’t (will) happen again.
But! Work was acomplished! I made some headway into my Gamespite obligations and I should be finishing my proposed articles in the next few days. I also made the mistake of reading some Silent Hill Let’s Plays. I am endlessly fascinated by these games. I also am the biggest wuss to ever wussy it up. Just reading about the games prompted several nights of jaw-clenching terror. I would lie awake in bed, not daring to sleep, because I knew there was a Patient Demon outside and that it was going to get me.
The real joy of the weekend was the acquisition of Scribblenauts. Except now I’m poor and can’t afford food. Such is the price we pay for our hobby. I should have just stuck with the free text adventures. In any case, Scibblenauts is a fantastic wonderful game and a hell of an accomplishment.
Scibblenauts is a puzzle game where you write words to summon objects. Almost any word is summonable. Sure, the developer, Fifth Cell, couldn’t fit EVERY conceivable word into the game but they did manage over 22,000 of them. It’s really quite remarkable.
One of most common things I’ve heard about it is that it’s a fantastic toy but only an okay game. This doesn’t really make sense to me. Now I might be arguing semantics here, but it seems to me that the game and the toy portions are both part of the same whole. It is this whole that the title should be judged on. When people talk about it as a toy and it as a game they are talking about two different approaches to interaction. The meat of Scribblenauts is made up of a couple hundred puzzles where the hero, Maxwell, either has to accomplish a task (help the lumberjack, paint a portrait, stop the ninjas from killing the royal family) or collect a Starite (the game’s macguffin). This involves writing words to summon objects to solve these puzzles. Scribblenauts also has a sandbox mode (in the form of its title screen) where you’re encouraged to explore what is possible and how objects interact. This is what people mean when they talk about the Scribblenauts as a toy: exploring the game’s possibilities without any specific goal.
It seems odd to break up Scribblenauts into these two parts. In Grand Theft Auto we don’t draw a distinction between the missions and the free roaming sandbox emergent gameplay. Both are part of the same whole. So it should be with Scribblenauts.
I think the main reason that people like it less as a game than as a toy is that the puzzle levels can be very obtuse. You get the feeling on some of the harder ones that despite having having access to everything ever you need to think of what specific words Fifth Cell had in mind. Also, when solving puzzles more mundane items like ropes and baskets come in handy much more often than fun things like cthulhu or keyboard cat.
This isn’t to say that the puzzles aren’t fun or compelling. They are! And I think Scribblenauts would have been just as fantastic if there had been no sandbox mode. The puzzles, for the most part, are very open ended and can be solved in a verity of ways. In fact the game encourages you to replay puzzles and solve them in new ways. The fact that you can simply sit back and explore on your own is a fun extra.
There are some control issues, but I feel they pale in the fact that you can summon a pack of corgis, or create an undead army with the necronomicon, or give an atheist a magic wand to smite god, or any other thing you can think of. It’s really amazing how much Fifth Cell crammed in the game. Scribblenauts, in both its parts as well as its totality, is a huge accomplishment and one of the most exciting and fun games I’ve played all year.