Words About Video Games

41 Games: Scribblenauts Unlimited

There are two games on this list that can be considered answers to the most enduring complaint about point-and-click adventure games: their fixed and often obscure solutions. The problem isn't merely that these solutions are hard to reach, but that success or failure is completely binary: you either solve the puzzle, or you don't. And if you don't, you're stuck.

Scribblenauts wants to keep the joyful anarchy of adventure game puzzles (why not use a tiny sweater to thaw a frozen hamster?) but it ditches the limited inventory. Instead of being given a sweater and having to figure out that you're meant to use it on the hamster, you have your vocabulary at your disposal. So you could use the sweater, or you could type "Flamethrower" and use that item to do the same trick.

The developers have done an impressive job anticipating most (non-brand, non-Proper Noun) objects (and adjectives) you might want to use. And it can be a joy to try to outsmart them, only to find that typing "Mom" to console a crying boy was absolutely anticipated.

The flip side of this is that players (myself included) often don't use complete freedom to do interesting things, and after an initial bout of creativity, it can be easy to fall back on the same few techniques to solve problems. The game does try to address this: ironically by providing more devious puzzles with a limited set of solutions. And the cycle continues.