I have formally welcomed myself to the bygone era of 4 weeks ago and picked up a copy of Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS.

Despite Yahtzee panning the game, I actually ended up grabbing it on his inadvertent recommendation, because simply the concept of a game where you can summon tens of thousands of items out of thin air to solve simple (sometimes physics-based) puzzles is an incredible exercise for the imagination I couldn’t pass up.

The game is not without its flaws.  The physics are very simple and sometimes can be spoofed or messed up.  The movement method of the main character is flawed in that you trigger movement by touching your stylus against an unoccupied portion of the screen, and when you’re trying to manipulate something it’s easy to miss.  If what you tapped happens to be empty air over a lava pit, that’s generally a fatal mistake.

Also, the developers really weren’t doing us any favors to have the camera automatically re-center itself on the main character after a period of time because it could be that the player  is trying to do something, the camera moves, they tap their stylus where it didn’t belong, and now the avatar is hurtling at breakneck speed to a meeting with death.

I think the very achievement of the balance in the game is perhaps  a bit overly forgiving as well.  Earning currency in the game (“ollars”) is only useful for unlocking three things: the next set of levels, musical tracks, and avatars (which allow you to change your basic appearance to something other than a lad wearing a strange hat).

Outside of the advanced mode (which repeat the same stage 3 times but require different words), there’s no real restriction on summoning the same thing over and over again to solve your problems.  It might have been a bit more interesting if they had you instead spend your ollars on what you summon, with higher costs being assigned to more useful, obvious, powerful, or frequently summoned things.

Consequently, the main achievement mechanic in the game is not so much earning ollers as it is discovering combinations of words which produce more useful tools for you to use.  The use of the examine mode will uncover many such discoveries when completing the prefab stages.  If you type in “boulder” or “large boulder”, you’re probably not going to get what you want, but later on when you stumble across a “huge boulder” you’ll have gained something useful in discovering the term.

That said, Scribblenauts is nonetheless thoroughly entertaining, owing primarily to absolutely gut-busting amusement to be found from watching the products of your imagination ravage the stages.  I might need something burnt and end up putting a pyro in the same room with some napalm.  I might need something moved and end up utilizing the attraction of dingos to babies to accomplish this.  Even my failures are often a source of considerable schadenfreude (though it’s often a “you would have had to have been there” situation to appreciate the humor).

Given a self-imposed limit to try not to summon the same things too often, Scribblenauts can be quite a brain bender.  Whether or not you care for how challenging it is, it’s a perpetual delight to see that more often than not the developers did think to add whatever simple noun you are thinking of to the game, and often including some realistic, surprising, or amusing behavior.

There’s also level building functionality which can be shared over the DS’s wifi capabilities.  I could even run this game in a foreign language mode (Spanish, Portuguese, or French) and memorize quite a few nouns through practice.  Overall, I’m feeling I’ve made a good investment in entertainment buck.

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