October 28, 2010

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Super Scribblenauts, DS
5th Cell, Oct. 12
Plaid Werewolf. Flaming Grizzly bear. Murderous Purple Zeppelin. Itchy Fat Blue Whale. Frightened Bookcase. These and many more ill-thought-out abominations can be brought to horrible life in Super Scribblenauts.

As the sequel to the dictionary-as-painting-palette puzzler Scribblenauts, Super Scribblenauts fills one of the yawning voids of its predecessor: the lack of tasty, sweet adjectives. Sure, spelling out objects and animals to summon their aid was great, but isnít your robotic T-Rex better now that itís shiny? The improvements to the spell-to-summon system arenít merely cosmetic, though. The addition of adjectives works to dictate behaviors which are often key to successfully completing the sequelís 120 new levels. Adjectives applied to inanimate objects often bring them to life with mannerisms in line with their descriptors. Sad Toasters will cry and mope. Nasty Polka Dot Snakes are likely to attack you while Loveable Lamps just want to snuggle. The 10,000-plus-word expansion of recognizable terms still has some limitations, namely in copyrighted terms, but it is eerie how far you can push the boundaries of the lexicon. Just donít push the envelope of taste too far, as explicit language wonít get you very far. Though you can make a Dam, which is a stupid but hearty laugh.

Most puzzle levels require you to summon specific items to, say, bribe a crowd to let you cut them in line or decorate a house. Occasional action-oriented stages are fewer than before and thatís actually a good thing. The sequel effectively squelches the cheesey runarounds that Scribblenauts players would use over and over to trivialize the original titleís challenges. Sure, you can summon a black hole to annihilate all in your path, but that wonít automatically win these stages. The shift away from the action-adventure style of game play, as well as the improvement of character controls makes Super Scribblenauts more accessible while simultaneously upping the challenge. While each stage is reportedly longer, once youíve gotten the feel for puzzling you will swiftly move through the game.

In addition to the gameís story mode a Sandbox mode returns with all its charm and the free-wheeling insanity of the original. This open field of experimination helps alleviate the sequelís lower level count. Here you can summon whatever you can spell and this freedom brings Super Scribblenauts to an odd place as a game. Is this primarily a puzzler with a ridiculously extensive artistic component or is this a digital tool for world-building? Is Super Scribblenauts an exploration game? Possibly, since the most joy you will likely generate in this delightful world is to rack your brains for the most outlandish combinations you can imagine and then put the developers to the test. This open play is wonderful and sweetly distracting and itís hard to fault a game for making you want more direction from it; but thatís the case here. 5th Cell has opened a Pandoraís box of whimsy without providing enough directed play space for us to enjoy it in. B+ - Glenn Given