Scribblenauts feels a bit like magic, in that you type in a word and it pops up on the screen. Lovely.
Scribblenauts Showdown sort of recaptures that in its various sandbox modes through a Zoo and the Mayan deserts, but there’s something about this latest installment which doesn’t quite match up to its predecessors.
Because it’s more of a party game?
That’s certainly the focus this time out. Scribblenauts Showdown will definitely remind you of Mario Party in that the core experience is based around a board game populated with various mini-games. You draw a series of cards to start with, each with different conditions. Every card comes attached with a mini-game which you’ll need to win in order to complete the turn and successfully claim the action. Fail, however, and the consequences can go against you as the other person gets the reward.
The aim of Showdown is to get your piece to the last space on the board with a maximum of four players going head-to-head at any one time. Fortunately, if there’s only a small number of you, AI can fill any gaps in your party.
In addition to the movement cards, there are also boost cards which can impact your opponents, such as sending them back spaces or stealing their cards. These can be played tactically, but often the options are limited in the drawing of cards as you don’t always have a choice in when to use it.
The mini-games are varied enough, though. One has you and your rivals in boats at the top of the screen, fishing rods in hand, competing to catch the most fish. The twist? You need to evasively navigate your line on the way down, avoiding the porpoise-filled traffic, Frogger style. Then you need to do it all over again to bring them back up to the surface.
Another sees you collecting space debris and dumping it into a black hole, the first to fill it winning the game. Or there’s one where you balance all manner of things on a magic carpet with the one gathering the most winning the game. Really, it’s all starting to sound like random Friends episodes from a parallel universe.
The Scribblenauts hook in all of this is that you need to enter a word before the start of each game to determine your handicap. A category is chosen at random by the spin of a wheel, and from there you need to enter a word that relates to it. For instance, things made of wood, or magical items. If your word is a good match to your category then that gives you an advantage in the mini-game. For instance, if you write Witch in Things Related to Halloween, fish are more likely to take a bite of your bait.
Thing is, this feels like the base concept which could and should have been something more. With such a huge amount of words built into the game, there’s rife potential to do all sorts of crazy mini-games. Imagine a Rock, Paper, Scissors esque game, for instance, seeing you compete in various different categories. Probably a logistical nightmare to programme, but would still be so much fun.
Anyway, each time you successfully win a game or solve a clue in Scribblenauts Showdown, you earn a Starite. These can be used to unlock items in the game, like levels, objects and outfits. They can also be used to develop your own personalised Scribblenaut which has a surprising amount of customisation, from hair colour and type, to facial accessories and vehicles used in-game.
So, how does it play?
It’s really good fun, especially when there’s a party of four. It’s definitely a game that needs to be enjoyed in a group and is perfect for house parties (or if you’re Karen, rooftop ones). Though I do find some of the mini-games better than others. There were definitely ones which made me do the audible groan, and others where I rubbed my hands gleefully.
Solo is another story. The AI isn’t actually much of a challenge, regularly making stupid mistakes in Showdown, drawing the wrong cards, associating words that make no sense, and generally being a bit incompetent. They’re not much of a formidable challenge. And while that generally means you’ll win a lot, the fun is in the competition, right?
As for the sandboxes, well, they’ve got their moments and as always, they are what you make them. It’s pretty much a ‘let your imagination run wild’ thing, so if you want to smack an enemy upside the head with a tea leaf, you can totally do that. Or if you want to draw out your inner Khaleesi, yes, you can fly around on the back of a dragon.
Each sandbox has its own Starite log with a list of objectives for you to fulfill. There’s usually a little hint beneath the objective which leads you in the right direction – For instance, one objective is called Tooth Fairy and the clue says ‘This poor feline has a sore tooth’. Perhaps they might need to take a trip to the dentist? If you get stuck at any point, though, you can pay for a more in-depth solution using Starites.
As a Scribblenaut, you play in a 2.5D side-scroller, platform-esque adventure, where you interact with the characters, objects and doorways in a multitude of ways. Sometimes you’ll need to run away, sometimes you have to fight, and in that instance, it might be a good idea to arm yourself. Doing so is a simple case of pulling out the magic notepad, tapping in ‘Sword’ or ‘Bow’ and boom, you’re a warrior, ‘arry.
You can only hold one thing at a time, though, so you obviously need to be careful what you select otherwise you might find yourself on the wrong end of a confrontation you didn’t want to have.
It’s all traditional Scribblenauts, but you can definitely tell that the focus has gone into the mini-games. The sandboxes are only quite short in size, and the solutions for most things are relatively easy to breeze through. And while you do a lot of the legwork in making the experience fun for yourself, a combination of familiarity from previous Scribblenaut games with samey solutions, unfortunately, leaves a bit to be desired.
For Switch owners in particular, it’s great to have a Scribblenauts game on the system, even if it isn’t the best introduction or a series highlight. Having said that, this can be a fun party game that opens up some creative avenues in this particular space by honoring and respecting its source material.
Sadly, Scribblenauts Showdown is predictably a cute little multiplayer title, but not a very good singleplayer one.
+ Decent assembly of mini games
+ Wealth of customisation opportunities
+ Sandbox allows real freedom
+ Good multiplayer fun
– Some mini-games are hit and miss
– AI doesn’t make good competition
– Sandbox levels feel familiar and easy to get through
– Singleplayer can be a drag
6.5 out of 10
Tested on Xbox One
Code provided by the publisher