Review – Scribblenauts Showdown
I love the Scribblenauts franchise. The games feature very simple gameplay, something either an infant or an adult can understand: find someone with an issue, think of an object or adjective that can fix said issue, write it down, and said objective/adjective will come to life. It’s an extremely simple concept that’s even more enjoyable if you let your imagination go wild, as pretty much any non-vulgar word you can imagine is included in said games. Most games remained exclusive to Nintendo consoles due to their touchscreen functionalities. The last game to be released for consoles was Scribblenauts Unmasked, a fantastic title that also featured DC characters. We haven’t heard anything else from the series creator 5th Cell ever since, given the fact most of the team, including its lead designer, got laid off in 2016.
Scribblenauts Showdown, a party-focused spinoff and the first Scribblenauts game in five years, got announced earlier on this year, being developed by a new studio, Shiver Entertainment. As the first Scribblenauts game for the current generation of consoles, I was looking forward to the revival of the dormant series, only to be massively disappointed with the end product. Simply put, this is a bad game.
Scribblenauts Showdown differs itself from previous games in the series by being a multiplayer-focused party game. The game isn’t much more than a collection of poorly-designed minigames which barely use the Scribblenauts concept of bringing objects to life, as well as half a dozen sandbox maps featuring the good old gameplay from previous iterations.
Despite being a Scribblenauts game, there’s very little emphasis on writing down objects when playing them. The only thing you can do is choose an object which will be the focus of your minigame (like the type of food you need to eat in a contest minigame, or the animal you will ride on in a racing minigame), with very little impact on your results. At the end of the day, you’ll win the minigame by performing whatever’s supposed to be done with it, no thanks to your creativity. I managed to win a race riding a snail while my opponent had a cheetah, for instance, even though the game said that “creating a faster animal will give you an advantage”. The controls are extremely simple and often unresponsive. There’s little depth in these games, and given how they’re considered the main selling point of this disappointment of a game, you won’t come back to them soon, be it with friends or alone. You can unlock extra characters by beating your opponents in these games, but honestly, why bother?
The game also features a sandbox mode, something you’d find in previous Scribblenauts games, but there are two issues. The first one is that each map is a lot smaller than your average Scribblenauts map, with very little to explore and not many puzzles to solve. The second, and most serious issue, lies on the controls. Writing down objects is annoying, unnecessarily complicated and completely unintuitive. Previous Scribblenauts games allowed you to use either the DS/3DS/Wii U’s touchscreens in order to type in whatever object you wanted to. What about the Switch, you’re asking? The system is so complicated I can barely explain it with words so please just refer to the picture below:
Doesn’t look very practical, especially when the Switch does feature a touchscreen, don’t you think? I understand that Scribblenauts Showdown was also released on the PS4 and Xbox One, and that you can use just one joycon in order to play it (if you play it on your TV, you can only use one joycon, by the way), but not allowing to use the touchscreen when playing the game on portable mode is a tremendous flaw. It makes this game a lot more complicated and frustrating than any other Scribblenauts game out there.
In the end, the only fun I actually had when playing the sandbox mode (and the entire game, for that matter), was when I completely ignored the objectives and NPCs asking for help and just started creating objects, adding as many adjectives as possible just so I could see the game struggling to make them come to fruition. Not exactly a lot of value for a game that’s not all that cheap in the first place (originally priced at 39.99, I got the game on the eShop for 19.99 a mere three weeks after its official release).
Featuring incredibly boring minigames and a unintuitive control scheme, Scribblenauts Showdown is an embarrassing attempt to bring back a perfectly functional and enjoyable dormant series with unnecessary additions to its gameplay formula. Its sandbox mode can still provide a few minutes of silly fun if you just want to type in a bunch of words and adjectives just to see the onscreen results, but the overall package is incredibly shallow and uninspiring. This is one of the most disappointing games of the year so far, a new low for a previously acclaimed franchise.
The game retains the visual charm from previous Scribblenauts games, mainly due to the fact that it looks exactly like its previous iterations.
The control scheme is very confusing and unintuitive. A missed opportunity to use the Switch’s touchscreen as a keyboard.
Completely uninspiring, the type of soundtrack that you barely remember even while you’re playing the game.
Fun Factor: 3.5
The minigames are as boring as the minigames found in shovelware Wii party games. The sandbox mode is still a bit fun, but only when you ignore the objectives and start creating absurd objetcs for the sake of it.
Final Verdict: 4.0
Reviewed on Switch.
Also available on: PS4, Xbox One