Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS) Review

By 05.06.2010

Review for Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS

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

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

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

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

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

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.


5th Cell


Warner Bros.


2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

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

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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