The Scribblenauts series is one of the few out there where creative and inventive thinking is a must. Where the solution to each conundrum is limited only by the player’s imagination. This is what has helped Warner Bros’ cute little puzzler stand out as one of the more unique ideas in the genre. Scribblenauts Showdown marks the first time where the series has ventured a little farther adrift from the formula, however, opting instead for a more Mario Party-style affair. Is it a change that’s for the better though?
Scribblenauts Showdown’s main focus this time around is on mini-games split into one of two types. The first set of games are short, often motion focused activities such as smacking a piñata with a stick, shaking a bottle of fizzy drink or chopping vegetables to throw together a meal. We’ve seen this sort of thing many times over since the Wii days and here the games are just as uninspired as you might expect from a mini-game compilation, some only lasting mere seconds. Even worse still is the fact the motion controls don’t feel as responsive as they should in some games resulting in confusing losses.
The second batch of games fair better, however, giving players the chance to test their vocabulary before each event. For example, when facing off in a combat-based mini-game, each player must first write the word of a weapon that starts with a randomly chosen letter. Whatever is entered, you’ll be able to use against your opponent. I’ve seen machine guns versus machetes and even a bowl of chowder against a crossbow. It’s these silly but fun moments where you can see glimmers of greatness in Scribblenauts Showdown – allowing its players to create their own advantage through the clever use of words. Unfortunately, they’re just too rare in what is already a very slim selection of games. It also doesn’t help that in some of the word-based mini-games your choice of word feels a little irrelevant. For example, when playing the eating contest game, all that changes is what your character actually eats not impacting the gameplay at all.
Twenty-eight. That’s the total number of games included in Scribblenauts Showdown. A meagre number when compared with any of the Mario Party titles and a figure not helped by the ratio of misses against hits.
Versus mode takes the twenty-five plus mini-games and pits two players against each other in a best of situation. It’s the game’s Showdown! mode though that tries to melt everything together in a board game-style experience. Unlike the much-famed Mario Party series, however, here it’s a straight race to the finish line where movement and mini-games are reliant on a card system. Said cards might move you ahead a certain number of spaces immediately, pit you against another player where the winner claims the spaces or simply steal or shuffle cards around. It’s a valid attempt at trying to offer a little more substance to the experience, however, it fails thanks to a number of glaring issues.
Despite Showdown! offering four-player support, mini-games are still restricted to just a pair. Even games that feel ideally suited to the chaos of more players are strangely chained down. This results in a lot of time where players are left doing nothing but watching – in fact, one particularly long session saw one of my friends only get the chance to play a single mini-game. Not exactly what you would call a fun time. Lastly, the use of cards results in a lot of situations where your hand will yield repeated mini-games – again another hindrance that results in some tedious moments.
Scribblenauts Showdown also includes the sandbox, puzzle solving-style gameplay the series has been known for, however much like its mini-game efforts this feature feels undercooked and shallow. Sure the basic premise of earning Starites by conjuring up the appropriate objects needed for a range NPCs is here and intact (whether it be using one of the tens of thousands of nouns or adjectives) but sadly the complexity and creativity needed to find solutions is sadly absent. More often than not finding the right answer is simply a case of looking at the thought bubbles above the requester’s head. Furthermore, with only eight stages to play through, you’ll exhaust this option in a couple of hours.
Scribblenauts Showdown doesn’t stray from its trademark cartoon-style visuals and while it’s certainly bright and colourful, this is now the sixth time we’ve seen them and very little has changed. Even the animation doesn’t feel like it’s evolved much since the original Nintendo DS game. Likewise, the audio suffers a similar fate, failing to leave much of an impression on the player.
Nearly every aspect of Scribblenauts Showdown feels like a missed opportunity. Whether it’s the disappointing mini-games, uninspired sandbox mode or even just the limited amount of content on offer the experience overall feels shallow. Which is a real shame, because we know the series is capable of much more. So while it’s exciting to see the Scribblenauts series alive, it’s far less so in this current state.