Long time readers of GUO know just how enamored I am with the Scibblenauts franchise. Posts would frequently begin and end with a “Scribblenauts!” sign off just like these. I even brought out the game during a dinner party so all our guests could play together, taking turns brainstorming the most insane way to feed a caveman or transport a sheep. Its unique mix of word play and puzzle solving, with just a sprinkle of platforming, truly made Scribblenauts a game everyone could enjoy and learn from. Scribblenauts Remix now arrives for iOS systems. Does one of the most clever video game titles ever created still have the chops it had on the Nintendo DS?
For the uninitiated, Scribblenauts presents a puzzle that must be solved to gain an item called the Starite. You have two tools at your disposal to accomplish these tasks: Maxwell, your in game avatar who needs to pick up the Starite at the end of each level, and a text parser that creates nearly anything you think of. And I mean anything. “Wet evil purple pirate hat”? Yep! “Heroic striped slimy accountant”? You got it! Why not dress him up in some “giant pink sunglasses”? As long as it’s not a proper noun, Scribblenauts Remix has you covered. Even GUO’s very own “giant fire breathing robot baby” is possible!
Let’s say, for example, we need to get a star from the top of the tree. We could use an axe to chop down the tree. We can take a jetpack, wings, helicopter, or friendly dragon to fly up and claim the star. Maybe climb up a ladder or stairs? How ‘bout we just create a “giant polkadot terminate”or “tiny spongy lumberjack” to do the dirty work. Scribblenauts database of nouns and adjectives feels limitless and each item reacts just as you would expect: Wood burns, metal sinks, and science destroys the world.
Aesthetically, Scribblenauts has never looked better. The high res graphic overhaul presents the charming paper doll world with a crispness not possible on the DS. Using the iPhone’s keyboard is a much nicer experience than trying to tap out words with a stylus. Music is intact and delightful. Two different control schemes are now available: A strictly tap n’ drag mechanic for both moving Maxwell as well as placing objects in the world, and one that adds virtual joysticks to isolate Maxwell’s movement as well as panning the screen. Both work well and I found myself switching between them depending on the level.
Where Scribblenauts Remix stumbles is in content. For $5 we get 50 levels where all but a handful can be solved in less than 30 seconds. (The price has been changed to $1. See our post-release update below for more information-ed). The game reuses many puzzles from the original DS editions interspersed with some (10) new ones. Worse, all of these levels are easy-peasy. With so much of Scribblenauts Remix made up of existing content from the older games, it is shocking that so little of it is here. The second game alone boasted 120 levels. There is also a surprising lack of variety in what they did include. There were only about 5 puzzles that really let me build and work to solve a problem. The bulk of the levels are of a ‘fill in the blank’ variety like ‘Add 4 objects to make a government’. With a game engine capable of not only creating anything, but allowing you to connect stuff together with rope, glue, hose, and wire, the unrealized potential is staggering.
In addition to the short, samey collection of puzzles, Scribblenauts Remix eschews most of the gameplay modes from the earlier games. There is no action mode for the more platforming heavy levels, no replay mode where you had to solve the same puzzle 3 times without repeating words, and no level editor. Playground mode is the only extra feature to return. The Playground forms Scribblenauts front demo screen and allows for you to create anything you desire without an objective. It’s the prefect place to play out your dream fight between “tiny metal Cthulhu” and “giant zombie God”. Sadly, even this mode feels cut back. The game features a menu option for selecting your Playground starting level, yet features only one to choose from. Yep, pick any one you like, as long as it’s THIS one.
Content wise, Scribblenauts Remix feels much more like a demo for the full game rather than the purchased goods themselves. 50 levels may look like a lot on paper, but when the 30th is just as simple as the first, those puzzles go fast. Scribblenauts still offers up the fun and creativity it used to, but you have to push yourself to use it. The game offers no incentive to think outside of the box other than a checklist of 46 Game Center achievements.
I did encounter a few minor graphic glitches with the informational tool tips, the rare odd behavior from a character or object (“super” ones in particular. You should try that before they fix it!), and one crash on level packed full of crazy contraptions. Aside from the single crash, these were not troublesome during gameplay. The levels are so short and contained that losing progress is not a big issue. Creative individuals will find they accidentally destroy the world on occasion anyway.
Scribblenauts Remix is still a wonderfully entertaining concept limited only by your imagination and vocabulary, but this edition is so skimpy on the game itself that it is hard for this veteran to see the value. What should have been a bold re-launching of the franchise on iOS has been hamstrung with a stingy amount of gameplay and a high price tag (App Store wise). Returning fans should wait for the inevitable $0.99 sale and, hopefully, more levels or modes. If you haven’t experienced the magic of Scribblenauts before, you definitely DO want to grab it. The freeform Playground mode alone will make you happier than a “joyous winged red centipede”. You may not find a challenge for your gray matter, but you will find an bottomless toy box of wonders for your imagination.
Update: As is the trend on iTunes, Scribblenauts Remix’s price was cut down to $0.99 in February 2012. What was unusual is that the price never went back up. Additionally, a “World Pass” in-app purchase program was added allowing customers to buy into all of Remix’s DLC for an additional $1. To date (December 2012), the World Pass has added another 50 levels. While these new levels are still mostly older (and easier) content from previous Scribblenauts titles, 100 levels of sandbox fun for a mere $2 certainly washes away all concerns of content or value. Additionally, Warner Bros. have added seven additional playground backgrounds, including holiday themed ones, in free updates. With this new price point and additional content, we felt it necessary to update this review and change our original score of “4/5 “ to “5/5”.
Scribblenauts Remix is a universal app for iPhone 3GS or newer and iPads. It is $0.99 via iTunes