Scribblenauts: An Exercise in Frustrating Genius

Playing this game is like standing on a sinking ship.

Playing this game is like standing on a sinking ship.

“Write anything, solve everything” states the advertising for Scribblenauts, the much hyped puzzle game for Nintendo DS that came out last week.  I’ve been obsessed with the concept of this game since the moment I heard about it.  In Scribblenauts, you’re presented with a puzzle.  In order to solve the puzzle, you need things.  To create things, you simply write down anything you can think of.

That seems simple, right?  Unfortunately, Scribblenauts is–without a doubt–the most frustrating gameplay experience I’ve had in a long time.  The game does an amazing job of recognizing what you’ve written, but so little of it does what you want it to do.

Here’s an example.  There’s a level with a tripwire.  Somehow you need to trip this wire without falling down yourself (or at least I think that’s what you need to do.)  Mannequin?  Crash test dummy?  Caveman?  None of these work.  What does work?  I don’t have a clue; this level is unsolved.

I could say that for a lot of levels; they are unsolved.  One level requires you to get past a tornado.  God?  Wormhole?  Sun?  Tank?  Nope, none of these.  This is a game that requires you to cheat or share solutions, yet doing so makes the game completely unrewarding.

There are also levels where I can’t even figure out what’s going on.  And only a couple of hours in, I find that I don’t even care anymore.

While the designers say that there are “tens of thousands” of words, and Internet research shows the number to be close to 22,000 of them, I find myself only needing a few things:  ladder, gun, axe, jet pack.  I think I can get through 95% of the puzzles I’ve tried so far using just those items.

The most fun that can be had in the game is immediately after turning it on.  You get a little sandbox area where you can just create things and make them interact.  This is a sweet tech demo, let me tell you.  Try a teleporter, and see where it takes you.  This is my favorite thing in the entire game so far.

Scribblenauts is the kind of game you bring out at a party to show people how cool games can be, but it’s not the game you’d ever want to actually play.  Conceptually, it’s an absolute piece of genius that I want to tell the world about.  It’s great that 5th Cell is trying something completely new, and kudos to them for that.  It’s too bad the concept wasn’t applied to a better game.

1 Comment

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One response to “Scribblenauts: An Exercise in Frustrating Genius

  1. Ben

    Is this anything like Professor Layton? Nate gets to use a DS breifly once per week in his afterschool program but I’m loathe to get him yet another gaming platform with zero educational value. (He loved his Leapster 2 for about3 months and now rarely picks it up.)

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