Super Scribblenauts hands-on

Not five minutes into our hands-on Super Scribblenauts preview, Director and Concept Creator Jeremiah Slaczka decided to show off the game's new adjective functionality:“So let’s try this: undead, pregnant, uhh baby. Why not?” And there it was: a small gray, patchworked infant angrily crawling towards Maxwell. A quick tap on the pregnant infant resulted in another, smaller zombie baby appearing from behind; I'd just witnessed the birth of a zombie toddler by a zombie toddler. In most cases, opening with a pregnant zombie baby giving birth is leading with your best material, but in Super Scribblenauts, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Above: Left, the Ifrit wants to punch you. Right, the holy baby wants to hug you

Scribblenauts exists in a gaming gray area, a brilliant concept that isn’t easily shoehorned into any specific genre, but is undoubtedly still a game. And withouta well worn path to guide its way, it was bound to have a few hurdles to clear. “It was so innovative we had nothing to go off of […] with a lot of FPSes, you can be like “Well they did that, so you should do that too.” But with Scribblenauts it was totally new territory.”Gamers were enthusiastic and supportive of Scribblenauts, but some critics weren't as kind; the game recieved some mixed reviews as a result of fundamental control and interface issues. Super Scribblenauts is trying very hard to rectify the problems of its predecessor; creating structure where there was none, but without cramping the wild inventiveness that is the franchise’s trademark.

One of Scribblenauts’ problems was having a hard time knowing how other creatures would react to you, vague word bubbles with angry faces in them let you know if they were likely to attack, but that was about it. Super Scribblenauts overcomes this problem by including a huge number of emotes and visual descriptions to let you know what a character is thinking or feeling. We played an RPG themed level where we created weapons for a scrappy young hero who was working his way up in the world.

After successfully dispatching some birds and snakes in true MMO fashion, he leveled up and donned a suit of armor. The level up was indicated by a flexing arm, letting us know he had gotten stronger. We then had to utilize some adjectives to take down more difficult enemies; an "icy slingshot" dispatched adragon that was calssified as "firey". Aside from the visual clues, some floating text helps explain the more obscure statuses. The hero'slast foe was a dark knight, so we equipped him with a "holy pike", which was cutelyrepresented as a spear with a cross and a halo over it. After this victory our little hero returned with a beard and crown, now king of the land!

Above: Maxwell stars in Tremors 7: The Legend of Curly's Gold

The little combat scene also featured another useful upgrade, health bars for all the characters. While combat wasn’t a constant in Scribblenauts, it was irksome seeing Maxwell or the other characters get hit and have to guess at how much health they had left. The tweaks continue: the much maligned controls now feature a d-pad option or an improved stylus control system; both feel infinitely better than the original. The camera is also upgraded, it no longer snaps back to Maxwell on its own so you can pan around for as long as you’d like. A new hint system is in place to help alleviate frustrations, but it’s timed so that the hints get more explicit or cheaper to purchase if you’ve spentminutes struggling with a puzzle.

Outside of the game’s 120 levels there’s an updated level editor with premade mission types and character scripts that take the pain out of constructing levels from nothing. Players will also be able to swap their created levels via wi-fi. Even if building levels isn’t your thing, expect to spend a fair amount of time tooling around the main screen testing your, and the game’s, vocabulary. The new adjectives are interesting not just because of their visual changes, but because of the way they change the AI of the other characters and how they interact with you. Previously, predator creatures or monsters would permanently attack everything regardless of what you wanted them to do, but with adjectives like "friendly" and "loving" that's changed. Jeremiah showed off his creation, a flying, ridable, maternal shark that followed Maxwell around, spewing little hearts to let the player know he wasn’t looking for a snack. The possibilities for mucking about are huge, “Sleepy Cthulhu”, “Violent Nun”, the list goes on.

Super Scribblenauts doesn’t revolutionize so much as it streamlines, making your interactions with it much more intuitive. Jeremiah described the essence of Super Scribblenauts: “This whole game was taking all the user feedback, fan feedback, reviewer feedback, and just trying to make a much better version of Scribblenauts.” From what we've seen we'd have to agree, every aspect of the game that fans and critics complained about has been addressed in some way, from the interface to the more structured levels that still allow for creative solutions. Super Scribblenauts is scheduled to hit stores October 12th, so you'll have plenty of time to brush up on your vocabulary and tryto create something morebizarre than a pregnant zombie baby. Good luck.

Sep 2, 2010

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