Puzzle-action games are hardly few and far between, many of which tend to lack longevity and innovation. I was especially excited when Warner announced Scribblenauts Showdown. This isn’t just a new entry to the long running series, but a huge side-step in terms of execution. Whereas before the aim of the game was more structured and linear, in Showdown, it’s more of a compilation of mini-games than anything else, Mario Party-esque, if you like. The end result is one that I picture will split the crowd, because despite the interesting ideas and the new format, Scribblenauts Showdown just doesn’t seem to have the staying power that the series is well known for.
The game is split into three main modes; Showdown, Versus, and Sandbox. Showdown is the meat of the matter, and arguably where players will spend most of their time to begin with. Here, up to four players are tasked with carving their path to victory through a select group of game types, spread across a board-game presentation. Players will take it in turns to play cards, or mini-games to be more specific. Despite my Mario Party comparison, instead of rolling a dice to move forward, only the winner of the mini-game will proceed. The amount of spaces the winner can move will depend on how many spaces the current card offers up. It’s a very straightforward and simple affair. It also comes with a CPU option, should you want to take to the game as a solo player.
Furthermore, there’s a selection of bog cards (as I call them) that you can select from. These work in exactly the same way that normal cards do, but will send the loser of the mini-game backwards, a set amount of spaces. This not only adds to the length of any given Showdown mode, but spears in some extra tension. The fairly chunky portion of mini-games included ensures that the game feels fresh on each run, regardless as to what main mode you take to. Simply due to how many different ways ground can be covered within, these games tend to last anywhere between twenty – forty five minutes a pop. The only downside is that a lot of the mini-games can be counter-productive, but we’ll get to the soon enough.
Versus mode is much like Showdown mode, but instead removes the board game format in favor of a randomly selected group of mini-games. The aim of the game here, is to win as many games as possible. Whoever wins the most by the end of the mode is crowed the winner. Again, it’s as simplistic as it needs to be, making it very accessible to all ages. Sandbox, however, is the most distinctive mode out of the three, and sits more inline with previous installations than both Showdown and Versus combined. Here, up to two players are tasked with solving NPC problems, throughout a variety of unique environments. Outside of Showdown mode, this is the most content-rich mode on offer, and sits way ahead of Showdown and Versus as far as longevity is concerned.
Once a map has been selected, you’re told that you’re free to use your imagination to hunt down hidden Starites (in-game currency). There’s practically no limit to what you can dream up, but if anything, this mode takes a great deal of concentration and at times, forward thinking. Sandbox dishes out zero hints, and instead requires you to buy them with the aforementioned Starites. If you’ve played any of the classic Scribblenauts games, you’ll know exactly what to expect. The environments in this mode are typically multi-tiered, giving you complete freedom to travel to-and-from each floor, however you see fit. Each floor typically houses a collection of problems to solve, be it for an NPC or a nearby structure.
To solve these problems, you’re expected to summon objects by pulling up an on-screen keyboard, and typing out whatever it is that you want to summon. The pool of objects that you can draw from is vast, over thirty-five thousand, and without any clear indication as to what you should be doing, you can lose yourself for hours at a time in this mode alone. The lack of direction may indeed prove to be frustrating for those that prefer more structure, but that would defeat the point of the mode. One thing is for sure, there’s no limit to the wacky character-inducing or item-dropping madness that you can think up. Throwing in a second player can be a blessing and a curse. While it’s useful to have a second pair of hands to help you make sense of everything within, it can swiftly lead to chaotic play with too much going on at once. It’s not a big gripe, but one I felt on more than a handful of occasions. Before we continue to the discussion of the Starites and light unlock system, let’s talk about the mini-games.
Mini-games are split into two categories, Wordy, and Speedy. Wordy games are all about trying to outsmart your opponent via keying in a word that matches up with whatever is happening on-screen. More often than not, you’ll find yourselves summoning objects that purposely hinder your opponents chances. It’s a creative concept that makes for some good family fun. Speedy games, on the flip-side, are shorter bursts of fun and much more akin to Wario Ware. That being said, not all of them are nearly as interesting or exciting as they should be. In fact, many of them merely rely on button mashing your controller. Irrespective of that, I had to appreciate the depth to some degree, especially for the Wordy games. Summoning mystical beasts and character powers just never seemed to get old, but it’s a shame that the game never really builds on its impressively deep dictionary.
It may sound as though there’s a lot of content within, but in actual fact, it’s quite lacking in this department. There’s less than twenty Speedy games, less than twenty Wordy games, and less than ten Sandbox environments to enjoy. This can all be seen and enjoyed in less than two hours, leaving nothing new to soak up from there on out. Sure, it’s going to take a few hours to complete the Sandbox levels, but the overall length isn’t much to brag about for a game that almost demands a AAA price tag. Not when you stack this up to the previous installations that went on to offer up north of fifteen hours worth of fun. The unlock system does provide some extra length, being that Starites can be used for purchasing new outfits for your character, but it’s hardly a game changer.
Scribblenauts Showdown is a lot of fun to begin with, but it doesn’t take long for repetition to sink in due to the lack of content. Despite how innovative and deep the summoning dictionary is, the price tag is too steep to justify a wholehearted recommendation. Nevertheless, this is still a solid family game that’s sure to please gamers of all ages.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.