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Intersection of Life and Faith


  • Bryan Fischer Contributing Writer
  • 2009 22 Sep

Available for: Nintendo DS

Scribblenauts is one of the most innovative games published for the Nintendo DS to date.  In this action puzzle game you play Maxwell, a Scribblenaut who ventures through the land solving puzzles and helping those who cannot help themselves.  His ultimate goal is to retrieve the starite from each level, something he can only do by solving the challenge before him.  While Maxwell would likely figure out these puzzles on his own, you're luckily there to help guide him with stylus in hand and primary school vocabulary in mind.  That's right, your brain's vocab vault is the limit to how you help Maxwell solve problems.  I'll explain...

You start a new challenge (new level) in the game.  Before you is a tall tree with a starite sitting comfortably on top.  How do you get the starite down?  Your imagination is the limit.  Type in the word "chainsaw" and use your stylus to give Maxwell the chainsaw that immediately appears on screen.  Then click on the tree and he'll do quick work of that obstacle, bringing the starite down for him to collect.  Want to solve the same challenge in a more interesting fashion?  Type in "airplane" using the on-screen keyboard and then hop Maxwell into the cockpit.  Within seconds you can fly to the top of the tree and fetch the starite.  It really is that imagination-driven!


The first time you play Scribblenauts, you play through a thorough tutorial that teaches you all the ins and outs of puzzle-solving with Maxwell.  You have two main tools that are equally handy depending on your situation.  The first is a magnifying glass.  During play, if you click on the magnifying glass, then on any object on the screen, a box will appear identifying the object.  This comes in handy when objects are stacked on top of each other or you really aren't sure of the location or an object's purpose.

The second tool, the notepad, is where the game really shines.  During play, if you click on the notepad, it brings up an on-screen keyboard where you use your stylus to type in the name of any object you imagine.  If you aren't specific enough, options pop up for you to choose from. After clicking "ok," the object you typed appears on the game screen for you to drag, drop, throw, and ultimately use.

The library of objects you can bring to life in the game is almost endless, but there are some up-front limitations.  You cannot type in a name, place, alcohol reference or copyrighted word.  You can't type "Boeing," but you can type "airplane" and so on.  Don't let this discourage you. The library is rumored to be 20,000 words deep, which means you'll have to consciously try to stump the game if you want to test its limits.  Perhaps an even better feature than having your imagined object appear is the fact that once it's in play, the object functions as it should.  An axe cuts through wood, a car drives, a horse rides you around, a trampoline helps you bounce all over, etc.

Scribblenauts holds over 200 levels of puzzle-solving goodness.  You begin each level with the camera pointing out an important object or area on the screen.  Depending on whether the current challenge is a puzzle or action level, the camera will show you what you need to know.  For puzzle levels, the end goal is for Maxwell to help with a situation, whether it is to fill a basket with hard-to-reach flowers or break open a piñata for party-goers.  In this case, the camera would point out the flowers to you or show you the location of the piñata.  For an action level, the end goal is for Maxwell to retrieve the starite by any means necessary, so the camera points out the location of the starite.

Each level has a par, like in golf, but in Scribblenauts your par is the number of objects with which the level can be completed.  Of course, the level can always be completed with less.  When doing so, you retrieve bonus points that then convert into ollars, the currency of the game.  You can gain additional bonus points for style by using objects in creative ways, and by completing the challenge in a short amount of time.  The additional ollars can then be used to unlock subsequent levels.  Also, badges are awarded depending on how you played the challenge.  For instance, if you completed a challenge without using a weapon, you receive a star badge with a peace sign in the middle.

As far as replay value goes, Scribblenauts is packed with the ability to tackle the same puzzles in new and exciting ways over and over again.  But it doesn't stop there.  The game also comes with a level editor, which allows you to create your own challenges for others to try.

Graphics and Sound

While consitant with most Nintendo DS games graphically, Scribblenauts' quirky doodled interface and character line-up feels more at home than usual on the DS.  Some games struggle with the limited abilities of the Nintendo hardware, but Scribblenauts' publisher 5th Cell created an illustrated world where the graphics really shine.  The animations for objects you bring into the world and interact with are simple, but they do the trick.  A magic carpet waves in the wind as Maxwell rides it across a river, and a bicycle's wheels move as it rolls along.  In the end, it's a puzzle game and the graphics do what's necessary to convey the problem to solve.

Players will find the soundtrack for Scribblenauts quite engaging.  One song in particular featuring high-pitched voices singing "catch the beat" will stick with you long after you've closed your DS.  Many objects have sound affects associated with them.  For instance, a jet pack roars as it propels Maxwell through the sky, and bees buzz as you catch them in butterfly nets.  The only object I came across while playing Scribblenauts that didn't have a sound was a mole, and that doesn't surprise me as I have no idea what a mole sounds like.


There is no doubt Scribblenauts features one of the most innovative tool sets in gaming today, but unfortunately that's where the hoorays stop.  While typing in objects and moving them about is as easy as clicking and dragging with the stylus, controlling the game's hero, Maxwell, is no easy task.  The control pad is dedicated to controlling the camera, which leaves Maxwell to be controlled with the stylus.  In order to move him around, you have to click on an empty space on the screen.  Maxwell will then move to that spot, but what he'll do on the way is anyone's guess.  If you click on a tree while Maxwell is holding a chainsaw, he'll begin cutting it down immediately, but if there's another person nearby, he might hit them also.  While attempting to collect flowers in a basket, the unlucky plants will be tossed from it over and over again for seemingly no reason.  My most frustrating endeavor was with a plane; I found myself upside down, flying through walls, etc.  I eventually got it under control, but it was no simple task.

Are the controls enough to ruin the game?  No, but they may frustrate you at first, causing you to start some levels over again. 


The kind hearted, kid-centric themes embodied in Scribblenauts makes it a perfect buy for anyone.  Kids and adults alike will fall in love with the challenge of coming up with new and interesting ways to solve puzzles.  While a person can use weapons in the game, the animation is so cartoon-like that the game lacks any real violence.  Even when swatting a bee with a fly-swatter, the bee simply falls over and disappears in a cloud of smoke.  Also, as I mentioned before, players are rewarded for completing tasks without bringing weapons into the game play.  So while a gun might easily knock over five bottles, so might a well-thrown baseball.


Simply put, Scribblenauts is one of the best games for the Nintendo DS.  While the controls are greatly lacking, the innovative game-play, fun soundtrack and colorful graphics are addictive.  With the initial success of this game, you can likely expect to see a sequel to Scribblenauts.  I recommend this game to children and adults alike.


(Rated E for Everyone | 10+ age | Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief)