Since debuting on the Nintendo DS all the way back in 2009, Scribblenauts has hit mobile, consoles, PC, handhelds and probably a toaster at some point. Short of a DC Comics spinoff, the franchise has always been a puzzle/platformer with an emphasis on using its extensive dictionary to solve problems to progress from level to level.
Now we have Scribblenauts Showdown, the franchise’s first step into multiplayer and while enjoyable for an hour or two, a lack of depth ensures that it isn’t likely to keep you satisfied for long.
While Scribblenauts distinctive colourful and cartoon-inspired art style remains the same, there’s very little to link this entry to prior instalments. Essentially a mini-game collection, Scribblenauts Showdown tasks players with winning short rounds in order to defeat either AI or (preferably) human opposition.
The variety of mini-games here is impressive, with the 27 games included running the gamut between dancing in the style of a quick time event to climbing an ice wall using alternating thumbstick flicks. What isn’t as impressive, however, are that only 12 of the games include the opportunity to use words to influence gameplay, and even then its almost entirely marginal.
As an example, one level has both players balancing falling objects onto a magic carpet. After an initial random starting letter, both players type in a word which dictates the item falling. While Scribblenauts’ signature appeal of seeing a new item on-screen of your own creation remains somewhat intact, the fact each mini-game lasts for a minute or two at most means it always feels short lived.
The remaining games are fun for at least a couple of tries, but what I really appreciated was the integration of the Dualshock 4’s lesser-utilised functions. Nary a match goes by without the integrated speaker drawing your attention or (whisper it), the gyroscope and motion controls that are actually accurate.
You’ll get some laughs, of course, but after the first time you play through a match (divided into rounds of 5, all the way up to 25), you’ll have seen almost everything.
In fact, after only a couple of hours of play, you’ll be disappointed to find non-competitive modes sorely lacking. There is a sandbox mode which features 8 larger levels with puzzles to solve (which can be played in co-op), but with each map fairly easy to solve and able to be explored almost fully within 5 minutes, there really isn’t anything keeping you playing.
Showdown’s only “carrot on a stick” to entice you to play a few more rounds is its creation suite, and unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of substance here too. You earn “starites” from playing each mini-game and completing challenges (win a match without losing a round, play a 25 round match, play one of each match – very standard fare), which can be put towards new cosmetic gear for your Scribblenaut and the equipment they use in certain mini-games. That said, after an initial 5 round match against the AI, I earned all I needed to get the cosmetic gear I wanted. Since then, I haven’t wanted or needed to return to the “shop” area.
For a franchise built on such a novel concept to drop everything it’s known for in it’s transition to a multiplayer setting is disappointing. Scribblenauts Showdown is fun for a night in with friends, but that said, I can’t see them asking to play it again after the first time.
- Charming art style
- Popping objects into the game by typing them still feels weirdly forward thinking
- Good use of the DualShock 4’s functions
- You can see everything within an hour
- Very few uses of the writing mechanic considering the franchise’s heritage
- Little to no single player content