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Hands-on: Scribblenauts

There's a growing sect of Joystiq writers who are walking away from E3 2009 with the same title constituting their Game of the Show. Surprisingly, it's not a big-budget blockbuster, or a groundbreaking advancement in storytelling, or a bold new method of how we interact with our video games. It's Scribblenauts, an unassuming DS puzzler with a massive lexicon, charming gameplay and, as far as we can tell, a large infusion of impossible technowizardry.

The premise of the game is simple -- you play as Maxwell, who must solve various puzzles to obtain Starites spread across 220 different levels. To execute the aforementioned solving, you write words to create objects in the world that your cartoonish hero can interact with. It's a simple concept that's bolstered by one astounding accomplishment from developer 5th Cell: Anything you can think of is in this game. (Yes, that. Yes, that too.)

There's no better way to relate how magical this game is than to simply present to you the challenges we were presented with, and the often circuitous methods we used to surmount them.

1. One level we played placed us in the desert with a thirsty, thirsty man. A cue appeared as we began the level: "Refresh him!" Of course, writing water would suffice -- but that's not very original, is it? My first time through, I managed to summon an oasis. It appeared, I dropped it into the ground, the man fell in, and the Starite appeared. At the end of the level, the game gave me a score based on how far I went over par (the target number of items you can beat the level with), and awarded me badges -- achievements for clever word usage.

Anything you can think of is in this game. (Yes, that. Yes, that too.)

Justin fed the man pomegranates until he fell victim to an overstuffed slumber. He created some lemonade, which the man then poured down his gullet -- level complete! Randy created a coffee shop. It appeared, the man ordered a cup o' joe at the carry-out window, drank it -- level complete!

2. Another level placed a pool of water with a shark inside between us and the Starite. While a few options may have allowed us to circumvent the shark-infested waters, we all decided to take him out. I tried dropping a sword on its head pointy-side down, but it bounced harmlessly off its thick hide. I then dropped a hair dryer into the water with more electrifying, fruitful results.

Chris attempted to drop dynamite into the water, though the splash extinguished the fuse. He then threw waterproof C Four into the water, effectively recreating the ending of Jaws. J.C. created a Kraken, which fought with and ultimately bested the shark.

Andrew created a teleporter in an attempt to instantly apparate to the Starite -- instead, it took him to a medieval world where he was besieged by shadowy assassins. He tried distracting them with candy -- really, Andrew? -- then created a fairly anachronistic nuke. The nuke didn't detonate, however, so andrew created a laser rifle to take out the assassins. One of his lasers grazed the aforementioned WMD, and blew up the entire level.

Ludwig was tasked with navigating through a zombie apocalypse to reach a helicopter with his brains in tact. He attempted to hold the undead off with a wall, but he couldn't get build it fast enough to hold off the horde. He whipped out a shotgun, but their numbers were too large to dispatch with a firearm.

Naturally, his next instinct was to craft a time machine, which took him into the prehistoric ages. Of course, he was surrounded by unfriendly dinos, so he made a robot dinosaur, which he then mounted and used to destroy his scaly adversaries.

Scribblenauts is going to be huge.

In all of these scenes, only a few items we tried to create didn't appear. The guys from 5th Cell explained that there are some limitations -- modifying a noun with an adjective won't usually work as intended -- brown happy dog, for instance, will probably just create a dog, though its color and mood may not be to your liking. Also, trademarked items are out, from "Nintendo DS" to "Bungee."

Still, the sheer number of items the game is capable of recognizing, and the development that went into determining how these objects interact with Maxwell and each other, is simply astonishing. We've never seen anything like it -- and based on the long line of E3 attendees that wrapped around the Warner Bros. booth with hopes of getting their hands on Scribblenauts before the expo's conclusion, we're guessing nobody else has either.

Scribblenauts is going to be huge.

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