The way I see it there are three ways you can react to stage magic. Firstly you can just reject it – thrust your hands into your pockets and just sullenly insist that, even though you can’t tell how it’s done, you know for a fact that it’s not magic, so what’s the point? The second, and probably most common reaction, is to desperately try to figure out how in the cosmos that guy just did that thing. But there’s a final way. You can just believe it. Just accept that whatever, for the time you’re enjoying the show, you’re just going to accept that this is a wizard who is sawing people in half and bringing them back from the dead, and magically creating playing cards.
If you don’t know anything about Scribblenauts, here’s all you really need to know –whatever you type in, appears in front of you. Anything. You can roll your eyes and move on to the next thing, or you can furiously try to find nouns that the devs didn’t get around to putting into the game. Or you can just accept that the only limit really is your imagination and get stuck into this fascinating world.
Well, the world itself probably isn’t actually that fascinating. The plot is so basic it hardly deserves mention, but suffice to say you have a magic notepad that allows you to create whatever you like and your goal is to make everyone in the world happy. This is basically achieved through a series of pretty straightforward challenges set in a bunch of generically themed worlds, such as a pirate ship, a medieval world, a desert island and a restaurant. There may be a guy, let’s say in the desert island world, who wants his picture taken, so you can just type ‘camera’, and one will pop into being, then it’s a doddle to solve the puzzle. Doing things this way you’ll just zoom through the game, which would soon get boring and ultimately forgettable. That’s not the point, though. The puzzles are really just to inspire creativity and stupidity. There’s a pioneer travelling the Oregon Trail, and his horse has died. What do you do? Personally, it’ll be a long time before I forget that covered wagon hitched to a giant octopus. Some guy is weeping because he can’t stop burning buildings down – I probably could have typed ‘fireman’ or ‘policeman’ to bypass the puzzle, but instead I created a ‘brilliant psychoanalyst’, which worked a treat. Which reminds me – you can add adjectives to existing objects to shake up the parameters of a puzzle. In one challenge there’s a an old man whose lawn you need to cross, and he’ll stop you if you walk on the grass. Naturally, a pogo stick , helicopter or jetpack will solve the problem easily, but I just added the adjectives ‘blind’ and ‘deaf’ to the old codger and waltzed across his lawn. Admittedly, it did kind of go against the whole helping people ethic, so once I’d finished the challenge I also added the ‘muscular’ adjective as a kind of apology. Because blind, deaf old men really want great abs.
So you have unimaginable power from the outset – you can make dead people alive with the addition of a single adjective, or create enormous diamonds in seconds flat. So it’s also sort of a psychological exercise, a kind of self-examination, in what you do with this power. As soon as the tutorial was over I immediately filled the screen with hirsute princesses, druidic superheroes and bowls of rainbow-coloured ratatouille. And once I stumbled onto the idea of clothing my character, more dementia was instantly unleashed.
So I chose to walk that third path, and just sort of believe that Scribblenauts Unlimited could handle whatever my imagination could throw at it, and for the most part I was not only satisfied, but often gobsmacked. A warrior needs a new weapon, so I just scribble him off a bec de corbin, just because I’m a showoff. No problem for Scribblenauts. If you do hit on a word that the game doesn’t recognise, it’ll give you a list of what it thinks you typed – and sometimes these suggestions will give you more interesting ideas that you started with (hence the druidic superhero – he was supposed to be drunken). Please note though that the child-friendly feel of the game will not recognise obscenities or even objects and adjectives of an adult nature. Also, naturally there can’t be much in the way of licensed characters – although a brief scan through the Steam workshop will probably allow you to scratch that Scribblenauts Indiana Jones itch.
When Scribblenauts was first on the scene, it was a consoley exclusive, and I wanted to see it on the PC so bad! Now it’s finally here, and I’ve gorged myself on its simple puzzles and graphics, limitless facility for the exercise of the imagination and gentle sense of humour, I find myself thinking it’s better suited to a tablet or handheld console than it ever will be to PC, just because if you’re waiting in the dentist’s office or sat on a crowded train, and you suddenly want to see if Scribblenauts will let you ride a depressed pink sheep…