Scribblenauts is the most fun game you’ll ever scream obscenities at and ragequit in utter frustration. As a toy it’s one of the most charming, pleasurable experiences on the DS. As a game it’s clunky controls and janky, illogically physics as far as the eye can see.
My original assessment was that this was inescapable given the sheer amount of stuff there is in the game. Quick, name every single thing in your house. Everything on that list is in Scribblenauts. Now, make an exhaustive list of interactions between every single one of those things. Now think to yourself: do you have any pirates, dinosaurs, or quantum singularities in your house?
This is what the guys who made Scribblenauts were up against.
In the end, though, it’s not the interactions (or lack thereof) that cause the game to be so GGRRRAAAUUUGGGHHH. The flaws cut a lot deeper than that; it’s the very foundation of the game that is askew. Scribblenauts would be a great deal more playable if they had just polished up a few things.
1) The camera should not snap back to Maxwell.
You don’t need Maxwell (the game’s avatar) to interact with the world; you can spawn anything anywhere. This means you spend a lot of time panning the camera around while you spawn and tweak things. If you aren’t actively moving the camera, though, it’ll re-center on Maxwell after a couple seconds. Trying to move an object just as the screen starts speeding back usually causes your stylus to land on empty air, which brings us to the next point…
2) “Tap to move” causes more problems than it solves.
In order to move Maxwell, you tap an empty spot. He then tries to move there, even if doing so is dangerous, impossible or both. There’s nothing quite like losing a level because you were trying to tinker with a small object and accidentally tapped the pixel next to it instead… except maybe the fourth or fifth time you lose a level because of that. Instead of having both sets of buttons move the camera, one set should move Maxwell. We know how a d-pad works.
3) Some objects should be immovable.
It makes sense that a football should go flying if Maxwell kicks it, or that a piece of rope should break if too much weight is attached to it. When I’m dealing with things like trees, mountains or suspension bridges, though, things should stay in place. What’s the point in having a brick wall if it can be knocked over because someone bumped into it?
4) Glue and ropes should attach to the world.
The game gives you all of these really amazing building blocks, but as far as actually constructing anything goes you are usually out of luck. You can interact with any of the actual pieces of the level, but the walls, floors and ceilings are off-limits. Even seemingly logical things like, say, pounding a stake in the ground to attach a rope to so you can rappel down a cliff don’t work.
5) There should be a background layer.
While placing an object the L button rotates it like a Tetris block, helping you to orient your pieces however you like. There’s no Z-axis, however, so everything bumps up against everything causing complete chaos. If you spawn a baseball, for example, Maxwell cannot walk past it without kicking it across the level. Solution: use the R button to move pieces into a background layer. This would also solve the problem of, say, spawning some small item in front of a large building without being forced to put the item inside the building.
6) Maxwell should fly and swim by default.
There are about three good solutions each that allow Maxwell to fly or swim. Virtually every level that requires movement on Maxwell’s part requires one or the other. Typing “pterodactyl” or “scuba gear” for the fiftieth time is not interesting or fun, it’s just going through the motions. Since these things are readily available anyway it’s not so much a matter of breaking the game as it is making a concession to the player.
There you go. None of these fixes should alter the game in a negative way, none should have been very difficult to implement, and none detract from the game’s charm or accessibility whatsoever.