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Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS) Review

Review for Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

When people first heard about Scribblenauts, back in the Spring of last year, they were excited by the idea. Developers 5th Cell made the ambitious claim that players could type in the name of any object and it would appear in the game. Many were sceptical if they could really pull that off, especially on the Nintendo DS, but the consensus seemed positive from initial playtests. Did the same hold true for the final release, though? With Super Scribblenauts announced, we take a look back on the original title...

When you first start up the game, you're introduced to an interactive title screen, where you can play around with the game's dictionary. During the first session with the game, you may end up spending many hours on it, experimenting, and it was the initial play that proved to be by far the most fun experience I had with the game. Of course, the first thing any person would do (wouldn't they...?) is try out all those naughty words. As expected though, none of them work, which is a good thing considering the game's wide intended demographic and friendly image. You don't always need to be naughty to have fun, though, and with such a large dictionary of words to use, there are hours of fun to be found in trying out different words to see if/how they work.

It's while experimenting with the vast amount of objects that you can explore the AI attached to them. The AI allows certain objects to interact with each other in ways you'd expect. For example, plonk 'devil' into the game world along with 'God', and you'll naturally see them get into brawl. Another clever example would be to drop an object into the games world, along with a horse. You could then jump on the horse and ride it and it would automatically jump over the object. It's all very clever and it's definitely one of the most impressive parts about the game.

Screenshot for Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Get past the title screen and you will discover that the focal point of the game is the single player experience, though, which is primarily puzzled-based gameplay. Players move the main character, Maxwell, by tapping the DS' touch screen to the left and right of him, and can also jump upwards by tapping above him. For the most part this control scheme isn't too bad, but far too often there are problems with it. It can hinder the experience and is imprecise; it could have been better with the inclusion of button control, or a dual control system that could have used the touch-screen and buttons. The main reason these control problems exist is due to the fact that the touch-screen is used to tap objects and also used to control Maxwell at the same time. Unfortunately, the game tends to get confused by it all and causes Maxwell to run around like a headless chicken at times. Not helping this, the game noticeably suffers from poor physics at times; it often feels like objects are stiff in one moment, suddenly flying all over the place the next.

5th Cell have done a great job on the tutorial sides of things and the first stage of the game involves the user getting to grips with the controls, as well as providing information on how the game works. This is done through structure that resembles the main stages in the game, which is a nice way of slowly introducing the gameplay mechanics. It's nothing fancy or new, but it does the job with simple text telling the player how to work the game step by step.

Screenshot for Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Once you're at ease with it all, you can then start solving the puzzles the game has on offer, and there is a fair amount to do. There are ten different areas to explore, and within each there are eleven stages to play on. What's more is that the game is set into two categories, which both offer a slightly different puzzle experience. The first one is called 'Puzzle', which, as you might guess, involves more puzzle like activities, such as finding the right type of item for a non-playable character, or figuring out the best way to transport an item from one place to another. The other is 'Action'. These action stages play more like a progressive experience, in which you have to get to the star instead of making it appear.

Puzzle stages are, for the most part, great, and some are bound to make you smile or think "that was pretty smart". However, you may get tired of the action stages quite early on, as they rarely require you to do anything more than push a few buttons and fly from A to B. These stages can also get frustrating due to their lack of imagination, and the controls don't really help the game when it comes to making an ideal platforming experience - they're really more suited to puzzles. Overall, Scribblenauts gives you a lot to get through and becomes quite a challenge further through. Sadly, this is partly caused by the shoddy control system and poor physics, though.

Screenshot for Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

During the time you spend playing the Challenge mode, you'll get Ollars, a form of money. These can then be used to buy new stages in the challenge mode, and also used to unlock extra songs and avatars to play as. It's not much, but it adds a little more value to the game. Speaking of value, the game also includes a level editor, which adds a nice touch for those who are creative. It's a robust stage creator where you can easily create your own puzzle and action stages. Stages you create can then be shared over local wireless connection between DS systems or through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. It's rather simple and only allows you to download stages from friends you've added, however. The option of a more community-based online stage-sharer could have been great.

To say that 5th Cell got halfway to their goal should be classed as an accomplishment, given the ambitious nature of the title. Unfortunately, whilst they have done a great job in getting so many objects and words into the game, there are other drawbacks that hold Scribblenauts back from the level of quality that people expected from first impressions. The awful control system, poor physics and bland music bring it down by a lot, maybe even making it unplayable for some, but if you can somehow put up with it, the freshness and creativity brings a new feeling of enjoyment to gaming.

Screenshot for Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review


It could have been a lot better; the touch-screen controls can really hinder the experience and may lead some to give up with it. There are some moments where the game shines though and you may genuinely feel impressed by its freshness.


Not the best looking game for the DS, but it certainly looks unique. 5th Cell have done a great job of working around the systems limitations and have created an art style that suits the game.


A bit dull really and lacked much variety, the music sounds like a children's mix-tape (obviously appealing to its aimed crowd) and comes across as annoying rather than catchy. There's not much to be said about the rest; basic sounds that feel a little lacking.


Quite a lot to get through, with a lengthy single player experience and a level editor to further improve its value. Some sort of multiplayer aspect would have been nice though.

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Good - Bronze Award

About this score
Rated 7 out of 10

If you can conquer the sloppy controls, Scribblenauts is a good enough game. 5th Cell have done an excellent job of squeezing in thousands of words onto a DS cartridge and used an art style that not only looks fitting, but works around the limitations of the DS. The game also provides plenty of content to get through and a level editor for those that want even more from it. It's not perfect, nor is it great, but Scribblenauts just manages to make something good out of itself, through ambition and originality that shines through the faults.

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5th Cell


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C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

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Senior ModeratorStaff Member

This droves me nuts, so whilst I loved the whole concept, I gave up before throwing my DS out the window...I'm really pleased to hear 5TH Cell is taking on-board all the comments for the sequel. I really wish people would have given more critique before this released to make the first game better.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Great review Ross Smilie Definitely agree about the controls, they made things very awkward and it was almost impossible to play like a regular platformer.

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery

Indeed. I put my thoughts about unhelpful hype into an article a while ago and dedicated two paragraphs to the Scribblenauts problem. It was handled very disappointingly by the media, and for that reason I put the blame for the controls not only at 5th Cell's door, but also the gaming press'. All of those who played it before release chronically failed to point out issues that could have been taken on board to create the superb product Scribblenauts should have been.

Scribblenauts is an easy recent case study on the effects of the hype beast. When announced, it was said that the game could generate interactive objects from any noun in the dictionary, plus some famous proper nouns - the only restrictions being profanity, the debauched and anything that would infringe upon copyright. It was a claim that many balked at - surely it was not a possible feat? This is where you might expect a backlash to rear its ugly head, but strangely things did not happen that way. E3 2009 rolled around, allowing the press and public to get their meaty hands on the game for the first time en masse and, shockingly, the impressions came back entirely positive. ‘Game of the show’-style positive. It seemed that Scribblenauts had fulfilled its promise, with developers 5th Cell only too happy to prove doubters wrong by inviting people to put in any term they could think of, with only a small number of entries not accepted if those that reported on it were to be believed. The next times the game was seen in public were very different affairs - whereas it had been relegated to a small section at E3, the unexpected attention it received there meant that it found itself promoted to top billing by publisher Warner Bros. Interactive at ComicCon 2009 and Gamescom.

And yet, when the game reached retail in the United States on September 15th 2009, the impressions of the final product varied. The positivity over the central gameplay mechanic remained, but a hitherto unmentioned issue made itself apparent. For all it does right, complaints about the controls have been rife, with the player’s character Maxwell bumbling into hazards like a drunken blind man, proving to be difficult to keep on a leash through tapping (the same method used to activate objects). This key problem must have been present in early builds but seldom, if ever, did we see it addressed prior to release. Everything good about the game was extrapolated on and the bad brushed under the carpet. If the hype hadn’t taken over and the issues had been pointed out during previews, perhaps Scribblenauts could have been spared backlash at this stage.

( Edited 05.06.2010 12:32 by Mason )

Senior ModeratorCubed3 Member

I enjoyed this game for the first half an hour or so, then got promptly infuriated with it and couldn't be asked any more. The controls were one, the hype was another and the level structure was another. Felt too samey.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Echoes221 said:
Felt too samey.

That's how I felt about the first Drawn to Life, to be honest. The only 5TH Cell game I've really enjoyed considerably is Lock's Quest.

The controls for Scribblenauts killed it, sadly. Touching on an object only to have the character start running all over the place was so bloody annoying. This is the first of many things being rectified for Super Scribblenauts, though, thankfully, so I'm hopeful 5TH Cell will get it spot on this time.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Thanks for the comments.

Much appreciated. Smilie

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