I remember being very impressed when I first played Scribblenauts many years ago – its trademark hook of typing anything you wanted and seeing it conjured into the game world stunned me. When its sequel allowed you to add adjectives to these creations to even further the ridiculous amount of puzzle-solving action I was appropriately awe-struck – but I did wonder where the series could go from here.
Gameplay & Multiplayer:
As it turns out, a sharp turn into an entirely different genre is the direction Scribblenauts chose to go in. Despite there being a Sandbox mode reminiscent of previous Scribblenaut games, where your imaginative solutions can solve outlandish problems with wild variety, it’s definitely not the star of the show anymore.
Showdown is instead a simple board game that plays host to lots of mini-games – not unlike Mario Party. Despite my trepidation for this weird new direction I ended up having a lot of fun with Showdown’s party-centric focus. Up to four players can move around a board, pulling cards that allow them to shoot forwards or pull their opponents back, switch places and other devious little tricks that are guaranteed to upset your friends and family and cause rivalries for years to come. As fun as this set up is in a local environment I was disappointed to see there was no online functionality – and for a multiplayer focused game in 2018 that kind of omission seems criminal.
Whilst any player can use a card to potentially gain spaces, they’re essentially betting that move on the result of an upcoming minigame. After someone makes their wager all players go head to head in a fun, oftentimes utterly uncharacteristic minigame to see who will win the boons of that card. Thus randomness is factored out of the equation in favour of skill, and whilst it’s a move I appreciate it does close off some avenues regarding the usually open-to-all nature of Party games where an upset can make it anyone’s game.
The minigames themselves range from fantastic fun to odd additions to simply boring. I particularly liked a balancing act that sees players type in an item beginning with a designated letter and then attempt to pile that item as high as they possibly can. In minigames such as this one players with some forward thinking are rewarded – for instance flat items are going to be a lot easier to stack than oddly shaped imaginations. Races and out-and-out battles also tip the scales towards players who really wrap their head around a given theme or objective.
With a chemistry set as varied as Scribblenauts there’s bound to be some missteps: when asked to conjure something flammable I offered Gasoline and wasn’t rewarded with the perks of a good choice. It’s irritating when Scribblenauts internal logic goes against common sense but luckily it doesn’t happen too much. Where the lack of sense isn’t as forgivable however is in the inclusion of ‘speedy’ minigames that do away with Scribblenauts one trademark trick and just throws some quick-fire, uninspired challenges at you. These inclusions really don’t offer anything special and I was always unimpressed when I had to play through a gauntlet of three of them.
Scribblenauts Showdown is still rocking that classic Scribblenauts look that won me over so long ago, and whilst it’s an aesthetic that’s beginning to show its age I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s unpleasant. Indeed, its cardboard, handcrafted visuals are still charming, though they seemed much more at home on a portable console than the current gen hardware they’re currently laying their hat on.
The floaty, imprecise controls aren’t quite as timeless however. Gummy, unresponsive controls make for some games to be funnier affairs of goofily bashing into each other or squiffy physics getting a laugh, but I’d like to see more finely tuned controls going forwards. Sound design was particularly lacklustre, however, with muffled, neutered sound effects and inoffensive music making the production feel a little run-of-the-mill.
“Scribblenauts Showdown” is a great little game if you’re planning on having a few friends over to laugh a night away with, but aside from these party-situations I can’t see the title enjoying the same longevity as its predecessors did. Whilst the endless toolbox of ‘anything you can imagine’ is still as impressive as ever, its usage here is restricted to strange little minigames that don’t allow this concept to breathe in the ways we’ve enjoyed previously.
As a package of distractions Showdown is a solid collection of goofy fun, but the rest of the package often fails to live up to the endless imagination of the series’ trademark gimmick.