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According to Merriam-Webster, Edutainment is a form of entertainment (as by games, films or shows) that is designed to be educational. For the mainstream gaming audience, it’s a dirty word and a death knell to any title marketing itself as such. Which is why I hesitate to suggest that Scribblenauts could indeed be edutainment in the sense that not only are you potentially stretching your vocabulary, but you’re also learning problem solving skills you probably wouldn’t naturally happen upon. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself though, so let’s take a step back.
Scribblenauts is about nearly unfiltered creativity. If you can think of it, you can use it to help you solve a myriad of puzzles. You play as Maxwell, a little boy wearing a rooster hat. Yeah, I know, but it makes as much sense as anything else. Players don’t control Max in the traditional way. Instead, you tap the screen and interacting with the objects through situational icons (attack, empty, ride, etc…). Your primary means of progressing through levels is by typing in objects most likely to help your current situation. According to the developers, there are tens of thousands of objects you could potentially use to complete your objectives.
It’s just a little hard to grasp without actually jumping in to play, so let’s try an example. A man is in a desert. To complete the level, the only clue you are given is to “Refresh the man”. The simplest and most logical solution is to click open your notepad and type in “water”. A glass of water appears. Use your stylus to drag the water to the man, and boom, you’re done. A Starite appears signaling you’ve completed your objective and you can move on on to the next stage. But where’s the fun in a glass of water? Points, or “ollars” are awarded for speed, style and how few objects you use. Originality and imagination are key to scoring higher style points. So how about offering the man a lemonade? My solution? A sprinkler for him to jump through.
That’s the kind of variety and hours of exploratory gameplay Scribblenauts can promise. Even if you don’t want to rack your brain on the puzzles and action levels, you can spend days in the playground, inputting animal, after vehicle, after person after… whatever. It has the immediate appeal that Tetris gives to anyone playing for the first time but probably not the longevity. Some objects, particularly people or animals will have natural emotions towards other objects. Drop a cat into the vicinity of a mouse and you’ll soon be lacking a mouse. What about a Ninja and a Pirate? God and Devil? Manticore versus Gorgon? All possible here.
I only encountered a few annoyances to speak of that, in the larger scope, should probably be ignored. This may stem from the general use of our in-house DS screens, but I found that when typing, the game would often register the tap as being the letter next to it. Pressing the space ‘bar’ is a particular source of frustration, often either not registering at all or being recognized as a backspace.
Also, there were times during gameplay where I noticed items would drift on their own. For example, I attached one end of a rope to a Starite and the other to a crate. Both were on a flat surface, but once the rope was attached, the crate would drift, or creep in one direction or another, seemingly without any other force acting on them.
One last little nit to pick was the music. The soundtrack for Scibblenauts consists of simple tings and pings that just get old. There are several songs you can choose from (many requiring purchase), but they differ only slightly from one to the other and in-game there isn’t an option to abandon music altogether without muting effects too.
Those aside, this is a title perfectly fitted to the DS’s portability and pick-up-and-play style of gaming. It has a massive range of appeal, young and old, male or female, gamer or not. It’s one of the few titles I can see people buying a DS just to play and deserves most of the merits it has been granted by the expos and conventions that devs at 5th Cell have presented it at. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just seen a screenshot where someone has given a bazooka to an elephant to fire and I need to try this for myself.