I believe the hype

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.

10 thoughts on “I believe the hype

  1. It’s things like this that make me almost wish there were some sort of decent DS emulator. Because if there were, we could look forward to some great, high-quality YouTube videos of some seriously Rube-Goldberg style solutions.

  2. As much as I hate to plug them, if you preorder at Gamestop you get a rooster cap, like the main character wears. It’s the first game I’ve preordered form there in YEARS.

  3. dtsund – There isn’t? Last I checked, there were some reasonably good ones out there. I remember checking out Order of Eccleasia with one before picking it up for real, and it worked perfectly.

  4. uuuuhhhh there is a decent DS emulator but probably it’s not a good idea to say more than this…
    as for scribblenauts,i’m sorry but i’m not convinced,i’ve seen several video and i have never seen anything that i could call “clever” happen… i like some of the interaction between some items like the fact that you can get a zombie out of a corpse or that the werewolf transform with the full moon,but that’s it i have seen waaaaaaaay to much video that were just a bunch of creature fighting together,i have seen that first level so many time (yes i get it,tree can be cuts) or items summoned just to show that it’s in there and it really doesn’t impress me…

    if anything i think most people go crazy as soon as they hear the word “sandbox” and get the promise of being able to do anything they want… wasn’t little big planet another game that got hyped to death for the same reason?

    ultimately this reminds me of the classic “the incredible machine” you know why the incredible machine was fun? it wasn’t because it had a gazillion of item,it was because of how item interacted with each other something which nobody seems to care when talking about scribblenauts… one of the item you had in TIM was the cat,the only point of the cat was to get attracted when he was near a mouse or a fish and the thing is it really didn’t matter that the cat got attracted by the mouse,what mattered was that you could then use the cat to push a ball which then pushed a switch to activate a fan,which pushed a balloon that pulled a level and well… you get the idea

  5. I saw Scribblenauts played in person, and the level I saw had the main character tasked with defeating a dinosaur so he could get a king pack to his castle. What can defeat a dinosaur? How about God. In a Mech.


  6. This game was terrific, just as I had hoped. The crowds at PAX this weekend around it were relentless. I hope this means it will sell well. It certainly deserves it.

  7. I’ve got my sights set this game, and because I don’t want any of the experience spoiled, I read almost none of your article, Jeremy. But I’m sure it was as usual superlative worthy. Bravo.

    The reason for the comment, however, was to please add my to the forums. Anyone have difficultly joining or being granted adequate access to begin posting? I know this the game is called gamespite (a play on gamespot?), but c’mon, I’m just as snobby and circumspect a gamer as anyone here! Let me in, please.

  8. brian – i’m having the same problem,i tried registering two weeks ago and it still says i don’t have the privilege to post on it

  9. @Teasel

    I tried to notify a site administrator but all my emails to the webmaster have been returned as a subsystem delivery failure. If anyone with the power to remedy this problem is listening, you have two recruits, potential revenue streams, knocking at your door. Please, let us in!

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