It’s been just under a decade since Scribblenauts originally emerged with its rather carefree motto of “Write Anything, Solve Everything”, seeing the franchise grow on the Nintendo consoles thanks to the pure creative puzzle solving. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith to make that next step in progression though and the sixth instalment, Scribblenauts Showdown, sees Warner Bros. branching out onto other major consoles with a party twist to their tried and trusted formula. Has the multiplayer focused risk paid off, or is the party over in a flash?
Main protagonist of the series, Maxwell, returns with a whole host of Scribblenauts to get the party started, but one of the first things you’ll want to do is create your own character and let others design theirs. You can be bold in choosing a hair style, colour, accessories, clothing, vehicles that’ll be seen in mini-games and more, with loads of customisation options to unlock over time and a decent amount available to begin with. Want to wear a Shakespearean outfit with a fire-fighter’s hat, a pink ponytail sticking out and a pair of 3D glasses on? That’s not a problem.
Let’s be honest though, we’re here to have a blast with family and friends, not play dress-up for hours on end – even if you do want to look your very best in the spotlight. In terms of game modes there are just the three available; Versus, Showdown! and Sandbox, each of which offers something different to suit the player’s needs.
The Versus mode pits human against human, or human against CPU, in two player competitive action across a selection of over 25 mini-games, in either a one-off game or the best of up to 25 rounds. These mini-games are split up into two types; the rapid, no nonsense Speedy variation and the still fast-paced Wordy ones. I’d say the Speedy type are fast and furious, but fury isn’t ever felt here, it’s just full of really quick and fun mini-games that are often over in less than a minute and easy to understand due to a pre-battle (skippable) tutorial.
The Speedy category can see you going toe to toe in a tug of war, where you need the mash the onscreen, regular changing, button prompts faster than the opponent. Alternatively, there’s more finesse required in the game of swing ball and here timing is everything when attempting to whack the ball back at the flick of the thumbstick. For those who aren’t gifted in gaming skills, the likes of whacking a piñata simultaneously until it breaks and a hot potato style game involving a ticking clock will ensure everyone has a chance of winning a round – even Nan if her luck’s in!
As for the Wordy mini-games, they bring a wide range of activities alongside a spot of creative thinking. For example, before launching into the action it’ll do a spin for a letter or category and then you must both enter a word that fits well to try and gain an advantage. What I didn’t realise initially was that whatever you enter via the strange text input wheel – which takes some getting used to – plays some part in the game. Therefore, in the ‘balance the items dropping from the sky on a magic carpet’ game, it was raining tractors, which apparently don’t stack well nor are they a reasonable size for landing on a floating rug. Things like that are brilliant for hilarity, albeit at my own expense.
Other ideas have you navigating tough terrain to deliver items, eating food items as fast as possible, toppling over towers by launching your object of choice and partaking in a rhythmic based dance battle wearing some nifty gear as a result of your word input. The variety throughout both categories is simply wonderful and great for picking up here and there for a half hour bash at a time. You could probably go through a whole 25 round match without getting bored, but that depends on the mini-game rotation, which is hit and miss. On one occasion I played the same four Speedy games three times in a row, whereas another it’d only repeat a single game or two at most. It’s best to keep track of your scores and just select them one by one if repetition is something that’ll be detrimental to your experience.
Moving on to Showdown!, and this is a board game involving a deck of cards that can be played for different lengths of time depending how long you’ve got to spare – it lessens the amount of spaces to reach the end in the quickest version. Each player starts with a hand of cards and takes turns to draw another card, before using one to advance on the board, draw extra cards, steal cards, or force an opponent to retreat. Sometimes you’ll need to earn the reward stated by winning the mini-game shown on the card or playing the best of 3 randomly chosen ones, and other times it’ll be a special Instant card requiring no action on your part.
Although it’s my least favourite of the three modes, there’s enough longevity for a couple of matches with up to 3 human players by your side or a bot. The board itself is bland and it would’ve been nice to see a few different layouts or designs to freshen up the aesthetics. It seems like a half-baked idea that could be so much more, but hey, the mini-games are still enjoyable.
In regards the final mode, Sandbox, I actually left it till last as it seemed like the most boring of the lot on paper, but actually, it’s addictive as hell. Especially when playing on your own. It’s arguably the purest form of Scribblenauts in the game as it offers a selection of decent sized 2D environments to roam around, as you solve all ten problems within, wherever they may be found.
There’s a log in all eight of the Sandbox environments, with each objective displayed and the option to use the in-game currency, Starites, to purchase a clue if necessary. I don’t want to give away too many solutions, but to give you an idea, there’s a ghoulish amusement park in which you need to help a werewolf become human again, so using your wordsmith skills you’ll have to come up with an object or adjective to help. I had to conjure the sun and place it over the furry beasts head to reverse the transformation, whilst a zoo exhibit has space for an arctic animal, so you need to think of one and place it in. Another area saw me fighting a Kraken and I decided to wield a rocket launcher, because why the hell not?!
The creative possibilities aren’t endless, however for my limited, ageing brain it more than covers most of what I want to use as solutions, with over 35,000 words included in the Scribblenauts dictionary. It’s ideal for kids too given that clues are available, there are no adult words accepted – I tried a fair few, trust me – and the wacky places that have been chosen for the Sandbox levels are visually exciting, full of great and inventive problems. I only wish there were more levels as I blasted through them all after only a couple of hours.
Going back to Starites and these are used for unlocking customisation items, as well as opening up the entire collection of Sandbox levels. Given that you’ll earn Starites across all modes, the addictive nature of earning more to unlock more, even things you don’t really desire, kicks in. If you want to unlock everything, it’s going to take a whole load of currency for sure.
On a side note, I’m really not convinced about the tricky word input method, nor the responsiveness in a couple of the mini-games. Whilst the mini-games generally work well, the hit boxes for the swing ball, piñata, discus etc. all seem a bit iffy at times. I could just be seen as making excuses for losing, but even when winning I’m like ‘how did they miss that?’
Overall though, Scribblenauts Showdown is the ideal local multiplayer title for the whole family and some friends to get involved with, especially given the cartoon-like visuals and happy atmosphere created by the sounds. The mini-games are a real mixed bag of skill and luck that pack a punch due to the fast pace, with the word-infusion adding an exciting, occasionally funny, element to the gameplay. Even though the Sandbox mode is playable with a partner, it’s ideal for times when you don’t want company and I’ve had a lot of good times solving those puzzles. As with most party titles, the longevity is hard to come by, and despite the mini-games still providing enjoyment, the Showdown! board game mode brings very little to proceedings and swiftly grows old.
Scribblenauts Showdown is one of the better party games that doesn’t involve singing, dancing, or everyone needing a smartphone, so grab a controller and unleash your creative thoughts upon those closest to you. It’s good, wholesome fun.