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PAX '09: Hands on with Scribblenauts


I mentioned the other day in my Left 4 Dead 2 impressions post that when I wasn't just hanging out with Dtoid people, or going to Dtoid panels, or attending concerts, or eating, or sleeping, I spent a fair amount of my time with L4D2, the PAX 10, and Scribblenauts. Admittedly, this is the game I spent the least amount of time playing and watching, because during the first two days, I was discouraged by the huge crowd around it, which actually moved deceptively quickly.

It was nice to see Scribblenauts having such huge buzz about it, though I'm still not sure if its popularity among PAX attendees (i.e. the hardcore gamers) will necessarily translate to the success that the game deserves. We can hope.

So, before I got to play any, I had heard through the grapevine that a certain Editor-in-Chief actually didn't like it. Perplexed at the very idea, I just had to go check it out myself to make sure my pre-order was warranted. And actually, standing in line watching some people play it, I could totally understand somebody not enjoying the game. It has the same quality as the highly underappreciated LOL, in that if you're not having fun, then it's largely your fault, and not the game's.

I watched some people in front of me re-enacting stuff that we have all seen on the Internet already (yes, we know, you can spawn God and make him fight a coyote or whatever), and I watched some people in front of me did nothing but keep spawning wings for Maxwell to fly wherever he wanted to go.

The game does discourage relying on the same solution for all problems, in a couple of different ways. The first is through level design. Sometimes the player cannot just fly over an obstacle, but must come up with a way to defeat, destroy, or pass through it. There was a level in the demo with a tornado blocking passage, and after seeing even a tank couldn't be driven through its gale force winds, I'm still puzzled on how to pass by it.

On another level, I was tasked with "refreshing" a man standing in the desert, sweating. After a few minutes of dicking around, spawning a coyote that ate him, I decided to actually get to the (admittedly vague) task at hand. I spawned some holy water, which was visually different from regular water, I assume, as it came in a small flask with a cross on it. Not knowing how to just hand the water to him, Maxwell threw it at him. It still made his sweating stop, but I wasn't yet awarded the Starite. I then decided that maybe he would be happier if he were wearing a rooster hat like Maxwell, so I tried to spawn that, but it gave me just a regular baseball cap. Feeling defeated, I gave the man the baseball cap, which apparently shaded him enough to be happy, and so he gave me his Starite. It was a bit unexpected, but it was charming.

The other method is through awards given after passing a level. The first level I did was a fairly easy one, and I was given an award for passing it without spawning anything that could be considered a weapon. So while flamethrowing through any antagonists to the Starites might be possible, the game encourages the player to think more laterally in order to come up with an equally viable but more creative and/or elegant solution.

There is one hangup I have with the game, though it may get better with more time spent. Maxwell's movement is (as far as I can tell) entirely touch-controlled. The d-pad controls the game's camera, and on several occasions I felt that it would have been more natural were that mapped to movement. The touch control also oversimplifies interactions, it seems, as in my "I want to hand this guy something but touching him just makes Maxwell throw it at him" example above. It's not a huge complaint, considering that the focus on the game is creativity and puzzle solving, but the actual platforming and other navigation could stand to be tightened up with d-pad control.

All in all, I'm still pretty psyched for the game, and I'm not regretting my pre-order yet. If too many of the levels can be simply powered through, it will be a bit disappointing, but it really does seem like the game is as fun as you want to make it. It comes out next Tuesday in North America, and you know you will see me sporting the rooster hat on the 15th. Who knows, it might even be refreshing.
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About Darren Nakamuraone of us since 2:29 AM on 11.06.2006

Darren is a scientist during the day. He has been a Destructoid community member since 2006, joining the front page as a contributor in 2011.

While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. He produced the Zero Cool Podcast for about four years, and he plays board games quite a bit when he can find willing companions.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Darren Nakamura knows several people in the video game industry, most of whom are Destructoid alumni. These include:

Anthony Burch, former writer for Gearbox Software
Ashly Burch, notable voice actor
Nick Chester, publicist for Harmonix Music Systems
Chad Concelmo, writer for Golin Harris
Aaron Linde, writer for Gearbox Software
Jayson Napolitano, publicist for Scarlet Moon Productions
Brad Nicholson, former publicist for Uber Entertainment
Alex Ryan, publicist for Kalypso Media
Jim Sterling, notable voice actor

Darren backs a lot of Kickstarter campaigns! If you want to see what he has backed, you can go here. If he ever reviews a game that he backed, that will be explicitly disclosed in the review.

Darren invested in Psychonauts 2 on Fig.
Xbox LIVE:Dexter345
PSN ID:Dexter345
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/profil
Mii code:1257 7687 3747 6405


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