I’ve heard a lot about Scribblenauts this year; like everyone else, I’ve read the infamous Post 217, and since I worked with superfan Nick Suttner until earlier this year, I heard a lot about it well in advance of E3. And it sounds fascinating, sure, but I wasn’t convinced that I needed to add it to my extremely short list of games I’m buying this fall. I can afford maybe two? Yeah. But my first experience with the game in person changed that.
I didn’t actually play it myself, but I was with Nich Maragos when he tried it the other day, and that was enough to make me appreciate the fact that all the praise and hype for the game and its dazzling sense of freedom are absolutely true. Apparently the ESRB descriptor for the game dings it because you can tie meat to babies and feed them to tigers or some such, but it’s not really as grim as all that. You know how the people flipping out over how you were “supposed” to kill hookers and steal back the money you paid them for a trick in Grand Theft Auto didn’t bother to take the time to discover that such behavior wasn’t a deliberate design decision but rather an emergent, incidental consequence of the open-ended gameplay? Yeah, I imagine Scribblenauts is going to put that to shame. But look at that screen! This isn’t GTA. It’s just a game with a really big vocabulary and the wherewithal to give you anything you can imagine.
Hmmm. Now that I stop to think of it, I do have to wonder if that includes hookers. But anyway.
Nich’s challenge in the single level he played was to catch a butterfly hovering about three times as high as his little scribblenaut could reach. Simple, right? Well, he decided to eschew a butterfly net for being too obvious, and likely too short. Instead, Nich spawned a vacuum cleaner. And it worked! A tiny upright vacuum appeared, functionally drawing in anything that fell into the vacuum lines at its business end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite long enough to pull in the butterfly. So he spawned a stepladder. Even so, standing on that wasn’t enough to give him sufficient height to capture his quarry. So I suggested a different tactic: Luring the butterfly into range.
“Try a flower,” I suggested, remembering when I was a kid and spilled powdered sugar from a donut on my shirt and a butterfly landed on my chest to make a snack of the mess I’d made. So he created a flower and picked it up, and the butterfly swooped down to land on it. Mission accomplished.
This is just a small anecdote, and everyone who’s played the game has a similar one. I’ve never really trusted people who claim a game has infinite replay value, but in this one case I can actually believe it. There should be so many different ways to complete each mission that everyone who picks up Scribblenauts will have their own wholly unique solutions, each resulting from their own distinct sense of logic, intuition, or delirious madness. It’s really quite amazing. I’m glad I’m not reviewing this game, because I’m worried that ultimately I’d be patting myself on the back for my own cleverness, and that’s pretty much the worst thing that can happen in a review.