Super Scribblenauts Review
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On 10/20/2010 at 11:32 AM by Jason Ross
20,000 words. 121 Starites. 60 Merits. 50 avatars. One game.
For fans of the original and a younger audience developing logic, reading, and recognition skills. Those who want to play in a virtual sandbox will also be entertained.
During my playthrough of Super Scribblenauts, I summoned 1582 objects and customized them with 430 adjectives or adverbs, or whatever one might call general descriptive words. Which words do I remember? Micro, tiny, massive, bridge, jetpack, wings, cat, mouse. To save space, allow me to say there's approximately fifty more, a hundred at the most. Why is it that in Super Scribblenauts, I can express a diverse vocabulary, but at most, only about 1/20th stand out?
To summarize, Scribblenauts is full of puzzles. One puzzle asks the player to furnish a house. Kid? Check. Desk? Check. Bed? Check. Dresser? Check. Another asks to give a racecar a pit stop. Taking a drill to the car cleared the stage.
A third, at first glance, seemingly complicated stage asked to establish a colony on an alien world. It looks, first, for me to "Make peace with the alien!" Summon the president. Check. Additionally, the hint system insists that I "Give the alien a peace offering" as a tip for the previous task. I decided to check a few other words. Tasty baby? Alien eats it, and the alien becomes friendly. Is the goal accomplished? No, unfortunately not. "Governor"? No luck. None with mayor, either. Senator works, though. King? Nope. Fearless Leader? Nope. For kicks, summon a ray gun. Mission accomplished!
Wait, what? Show the alien I have a weapon to make peace? Sounds like the cold war all over again. Ok, well, regardless, time to continue building civilization. Time for a water source! Well. Actually, I tried "Well Well," referencing "Well-Guard, guard your well, well." from 30 Rock. Seemed like an average well, but it did complete that part of the mission.
Now, three food sources. Apple Tree? Good, works all right. Let's try to spice up on the second one. We saw that tasty babies are edible. Let's try to make a regenerating tasty baby. "Pregnant Tasty Baby." Eerily, this combination works. Nearby, the on-screen tasty baby, there's a poof, and an even smaller baby appears. "Tasty baby baby," according to the object identifier. Huh, something is happening... The tasty baby baby is eating what is now a motherly tasty baby!
Where was I? Oh, right, food sources. Now, the tasty baby friendly baby doesn't seem to be having another baby, so I suppose it won't do. Other people won't even try to eat the tasty baby friendly baby, so I suppose that would flop, anyway. I choose "Deer." Check. Two out of three. One more to go. Wait, hold up. The deer just ate the tasty baby friendly baby. One more. Uhh, seed. That'll do it. Last task: Renewable oxygen source. This one's already done, via presence of the apple tree, it seems. Time to collect the Starite, and we're done.
Now, let's see, what's the next stage? Analogies. Horse is to barn and pig as Zebra is to Savannah and blank. Dog is to house and to blank as blank is to blank and to tiger. What is this, the SATs?
See a pattern? Super Scribblenauts stages are cut and dry. The answers above? Boar, cat, wolf, and jungle. While there are a variety of answers to most of the game’s puzzles; at least enough to solve many three times over, most puzzles are a bit bland, almost like fill-in-the-blank quizzes. In playing Super Scribblenauts, one figures out what a dad wants from his furniture, what can go in an art and history museum, and what a girl needs on her first day of school.
Why would anyone want to spend time doing that when it's possible to make pregnant tasty babies? When it's possible to connect a ramp to a wall to make bombs drop down away from other explosives that would otherwise destroy the Starite, Maxwell's end goal to each stage? Ride virtually anything to attack whatever can be imagined?
And therein lies the flaw of Super Scribblenauts. In creating a robust descriptive-word engine, 5th Cell managed to overcome one issue with the first game, the notable fact that things summoned often performed contrary to desires. Now, if that happens, one just has to stick an adjective in front to overcome the problem. Super Scribblenauts also fixes control issues, too. Regardless, it still doesn't present compelling mission-based gameplay in a vast portion of its stages.
In fact, almost as if 5th Cell were aware of how vapid and dull stages are where one paints a basketball from green to orange, its proper color, they've added 23 bonus stages, which resemble the action stages from the original title. In the first game, due to terrible, stubborn, and buggy controls, these stages were more of a hassle than anything else. However, in Super Scribblenauts, these stages serve to show us, once more, what could have been. In these stages, I actually did connect a ramp to a wall to divert bombs, then jetpacked over explosives to find a Starite. I did trigger the launch mechanism for spiked ceilings using and killing innocent fairies all the while. I did whatever my imagination could conceive to reach the goal Starite. Unfortunately, though, since only about 1/6th of the game's stages are built like this, the difficulty curve goes from mind-numbingly simple to Mouse-Trap-like madness far too quickly, and the last five or six stages left me scratching my head in disbelief.
5th Cell did manage to include a custom stage creator, and at first, it seems that it could be very comprehensive. However, the lack of shortcuts and the limited utility of the several game types available for the custom stage don't allow much ease to work with. Stage builders must also be careful should they choose to ask their players for certain items: Asking for a car means a player must put in a car, not any other type of automobile. Likewise, livestock permits a more wide variety of options for the player. While the options are diverse, again, each game mode restricts the builder to only a few triggers, rather than the game's full catalog. Unfortunately, it seems there's only eight save slots for custom stages, too, which, considering 5th Cell implemented WiFi play to share stages with friends is outright disappointing.
I must conclude with this: Super Scribblenauts plays like an expansion to the first title. It fixes the problems the fans of the first game seemed to notice, and it does manage to give a bit more meaning to whatever Maxwell summons, too. Unfortunately, in solving the basic problems, 5th Cell nearly entirely neglected the creation of enjoyable, balanced stages. The added hint system does solve problems when a stage need is too specific, but it doesn't provide much fun to rely on a hint, either. Those who want to play in a virtual sandbox with hundreds or even thousands of toys would love Super Scribblenauts, as would a younger audience developing logic, reading, and recognition skills. Anyone else would probably be wise to stay away, as Super Scribblenauts lacks very many stages that will challenge those who want to accomplish a goal using boundless creativity.