The first Scribblenauts released back in 2009 was a sleeper hit, and a wonderfully innovative approach to puzzle games where the only limit was the player’s imagination. Players could devise the wildest solutions to puzzles to earn ‘Starites’, and spawn items, people, animals, and buildings by simply typing it into their Nintendo DS.
Its success led to several great sequels including Scribblenauts Unlimited with multiple exciting worlds to explore, and Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, which featured iconic characters, plots, and locations from the DC universe.
This time around, Scribblenauts has turned its puzzle game into a party one instead, so picture something along the lines of Mario Party or the Raving Rabbids series of games. Players can go solo versus the CPU or up to 4 players can face one another in various minigames.
Scribblenauts Showdown is split into three game modes – Versus, Showdown, and Sandbox. In Versus, players face off with a friend or the CPU. You choose how many rounds of minigames you’d like to play, and off you go.
There are two types of minigames, wordy and speedy. Wordy games have players creating objects that suit the theme, and creative ideas are supposed to give the player advantages. For example, one game requires players to deliver a package by drone, so the heavier the item, the more points successful deliveries will earn.
On the other hand, speedy games don’t require creativity so much as quick reflexes, responding swiftly to on-screen cues.
Innovative objects chosen in the minigames are supposed to give an added bonus, but in reality, there’s barely any difference at all. In a food eating challenge, coming up with smaller foods supposedly helps you finish faster, but the speed for chowing down on some potato chips seems about the same as a hamburger.
The games themselves don’t offer much variety, or fun for that matter. Two of them have the exact same mechanics as viral mobile games Flappy Bird and Crossy Road, while another is suspiciously similar to the old school Root Beer Tapper arcade game. Many of them play out like mobile games, with simple tasks such as stacking objects, and tapping buttons on cue to win in tug of war or a dance-off.
Playing versus CPU can be frustrating too, as the AI flip-flops from being really good to being completely incompetent game to game.
Showdown mode is basically all the same minigames of Versus mode, but for up to 4 players and in a card/board game format. Players aim to reach the end of the road first by playing cards and winning minigames to send themselves forward or opponents backward.
Minimal strategy is involved when playing the cards, considering that everyone can see everyone else’s cards and the cards mainly have movement-based actions. This mode does offer more interesting gameplay since it supports more players, as you battle it out to reach the end first.
It can, however, feel long-drawn the more players you have as you get stuck in a continuous loop of moving forward and getting sent back by other players, playing minigames over and over again before someone finally crosses the finish line.
Versus and Showdown could be entertaining modes for a party game, but they are stripped of what made Scribblenauts great in the first place, and that’s the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking it encouraged.
If you’re looking for a taste of that original Scribblenauts silliness, Sandbox mode delivers and as a result is the most fun mode in the game. Play alone or with a friend on 8 maps that can gradually be unlocked, set in various locations such as the Forbidden City and the jungle.
The maps are multi-levelled and players have to find creative ways to solve a series of puzzles and earn Starites, classic Scribblenauts style.
Want to get around? Sure you could take the stairs, but might as well create and ride a giant friendly flying pink Cthulhu. This warrior needs something to defend himself? Here buddy, have a tiny dirty Gatling gun. Sky’s the limit, as the game has expanded its dictionary to contain over 35,000 objects and adjectives.
But instead of having one clear objective to fulfill at a time, the game hands you the whole level’s worth of puzzles for you to complete at the start, which can get confusing. You have to repeatedly hit pause to check the Starite log to remind yourself of the puzzles, which come with vague hints on how to solve them. It’s up to you to figure out which puzzle in the log matches with which person on the map.
This is Scribblenauts’ first game to be released on the PS4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch consoles, as previous games were made for the 3DS, PC, and Wii U. They probably already did the best they could with designing the typing function on a console controller, but typing out words using the analog stick in Scribblenauts Showdown is tedious.
That’s an issue since you’ll be typing quite a bit in Sandbox mode. I found myself settling for things with shorter names, as the thought of typing out a long word felt like a chore.
Selecting which entity you want to modify or give an object to also involves scrolling through a menu of all the nearby options, making selecting a specific thing difficult if there’s many items around you.
As always, we are met with the iconic Scribblenauts art style, which never ceases to be adorable and appealing. But considering the heaps of wacky fun past Scribblenauts installments have given us, Scribblenauts Showdown comes as a disappointment.
As much as it wants to be a replayable party game, it is seriously lacking in content, with only 27 minigames (12 wordy, 15 speedy) and 8 Sandbox maps. This pales in comparison with other party games like Mario Party 8, which offered a total of 73 minigames.
You could probably exhaust the selection of minigames within an hour, and finish all the Sandbox maps in a couple more. Sandbox mode can really only be completed once, and playing repeated rounds of the same minigames becomes rather dull.
The party game simply doesn’t offer enough content to justify its price tag of US$39.99. It was a promising idea for sure, but doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations of a Scribblenauts game, and deliver on more opportunities for the limitless, creative puzzle-solving we have come to enjoy.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Scribblenauts has turned their unique concept into a disappointing party game with insufficient, repetitive minigames and a Sandbox mode that’s fun but with minimal replayability.