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Super Scribblenauts preview: Maxwell's house


From what we've seen, it seems safe to say that if you liked Scribblenauts, you'll love the sequel. It's got a refined and updated version of the original's wordplay, along with plenty of fun extras like a level editor with deep scripting capability, and a "merit" achievements system that keeps the gameplay moving even after you've beaten the 100-plus levels the first time.

But what if you didn't like Scribblenauts? What if, like me, you were charmed by the premise, but were overwhelmed by the execution, by the option to create anything in order to solve a series of often nebulous puzzles?

Gallery: Super Scribblenauts (Gamescom 2010) | 38 Photos

Don't worry, says creative director Jeremiah Slaczka, 5TH Cell thought of you too. First up, the developers have streamlined a lot of the game's missions. One mission simply tasked me with creating a creature, any creature, which had a small head and a long neck (I went with "fishy brontosaurus," but "ostrich" would have worked fine, too). In another level, I was asked to create homes for a tiger, a mountain climber and a cow, and while "gilded cage" didn't fly with the first beast, "gold cage" did, as did "insulated tent" and "milking barn" for the other two.

Slaczka and team have also put a hint system into the game -- you can now spend "ollars," the game's currency, to get a series of progressive hints as you play along. So if, like me, you're slightly confused when presented with a set of human statues with colored locks in them, and don't realize that you need to create colored keys instead of live versions of the statues, the hint system will help you out.

There are, as you'd expect, lots of fun secrets to find.

Over time, the hints become free. In short, says Slaczka, "there's more structure" to the missions. "That's definitely what we wanted to do."

Adjectives are, of course, the game's biggest new draw, and while they do work fairly well, they're implemented a little more flexibly than nouns were in the first title. Previously, stating a noun got you that object, but in Super Scribblenauts stating an adjective doesn't always get you what you want. Sometimes the game doesn't understand the adjective, crossing it out and giving you the object anyway, and sometimes the descriptor isn't immediately clear. Although you can give personalities to normally inanimate objects, it's not always clear right away what those adjectives mean besides just making whatever you created jump around. The "insulated tent" I created wasn't really different than any other tent would have been. One of Slaczka's favorite examples is anything that's "pregnant" and "zombified," which will make it both crave brains and give birth to a smaller version of itself -- we created a "pregnant zombified table," and it worked as promised.

The system is extremely forgiving, however. You can very easily access previously entered nouns and adjectives, and you can combine and chain adjectives as you like. If an object you want isn't produced right away, it's simple to jump back in and try again. And the game's all about experimentation anyway, so there's no dent in the fun.

I also played with the game's level editor. Levels can be shared over the DS's WiFi connection in a peer-to-peer connection (Slaczka said that creating a browseable database of levels would be great, but that it's beyond the game's scope at this point), and players can choose backgrounds, draw objects from tilesets, create objects to interact with, and even use a scripting and template system to create level goals. The one I created contained a purple cat, and asked the player to feed it for a Starite -- easily done with some summoned "catfood." Other level templates, said Slaczka, include things like having to win a race, fighting creatures, protecting the VIP, or using a Create-a-tron to combine certain objects together. There are "around 12 or 16 templates" in total, so there are a lot of possibilities for would-be level creators.

The version of the game I played was pretty close to final, and it was great. A lot has already been said about the control scheme, but I didn't have an issue with either the stylus or the D-pad controls (you can switch at any time). The one issue I had was that some objects in the game's missions are extremely small, and sometimes I would touch the wrong object by accident. That's an issue shared with the first game, but partially a fault of the platform and the complexity of the game, I think, rather than the developers' oversight.

There are, as you'd expect, lots of fun secrets to find. When you do pick up the game, be sure to create an "arcade machine" -- 5TH Cell made its own game-within-a-game for you to play on the DS's touchscreen. Oh, and yes, JC, I checked -- I was able to create a "bulbous man," a squat dude looking a little lumpy around the waist.

Super Scribblenauts
appears more than ready for launch on October 12.

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