Disappointed with Scribblenauts

ScribblenautsI love my DS, and there have been a couple of great games recently, but where’s the new Phoenix Wright, Ouendan, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center, or Hotel Dusk? The really original stuff that it enjoyed a couple of years back. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed recent good stuff like GTA: Chinatown Wars and Devil Survivor, but they didn’t particularly get my juices going.

Scribblenauts has been critical darling since its strong showing at E3 – this episode of Co-op was actually my first sighting of it – and when you watch it being played it’s easy to see why. Like the best ideas, it’s incredibly simple, and the way that it’s executed with charm and good humour is incredibly appealing. Its sense of humour is one area that I can’t fault it, with a laundry list of cool touches that raise a smile: try spawning in the Large Hadron Collider or Rickrolling the game, for example. Even Internet peculiarities from Keyboard Cat to NeoGAF are represented.

Unfortunately, it’s just overreaching. Is it the DS hardware or the developer’s means that are being stretched? I’m not sure. Either way, the game frustrates me too much to have that much fun with it, which is all the more disappointing when it can be as much fun as it is when it actually works. It’s just that it’s got the uncanny valley of the English language going on, where for every time it works, it suddenly reminds you that it’s a machine interpreting your words when your hunter won’t kill the bear, or when the beekeeper gets chased off by a bee, or when you can’t cushion that spike with, you know, a cushion… It takes away the urge to be creative, instead encouraging you to fall back on the boring but predictable staples, like a gun or a jetpack.

Yes, it’s ‘only’ a DS game, but when the game’s reason for existing annoys, it becomes harder to bounce back compared to the more minor faults, like the janky controls. It’s very, very clever, but it’s probably telling that I had more fun on the title screen sandbox, pitting God against zombies or Cthulhu against a tyrannosaurus or the familiar-looking cyborgs against an EMP device, where the questionable interactions become more forgivable and throwaway.

Even so, 5TH Cell has got itself on my radar, and I’d love to see what it can do on more capable hardware.

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