Review: Scribblenauts Remix (iOS)

You’ll excuse me if I gush a bit about this game. I’ve always been a fan of innovative, super-smart games and this game fits the bill in every respect. Scribblenauts Remix is the iOS port of the original Scribblenauts which debuted for the Nintendo DS in 2009. I’d read about the original extensively and had been very excited at its premise. When I found out it had come to my beloved iPhone, it was a given I’d pick it up.

Scribblenauts Remix (like it’s predecessor) is a puzzle action game where you assist Maxwell in overcoming obstacles and collecting ‘Starites’ by summoning items literally out of thin air by typing in the name (and sometimes description) of the items. The genius of this game is in its emergent game-play and focus on multiple solutions to challenges. Need to get a Starite from that tall tree? You could summon a ladder… or a trampoline… or a jetpack… or a lasso… or a UFO. The solutions are limited only by the imagination of the player and that makes this nothing short of a brilliant game.

This could easily be labelled as a children’s game. Clearly the colorful and friendly graphics and the vocabulary-building and grammatical emphasis of some of the challenges encourages learning during play. This -of course- is another example of just how wonderful this game is. I know I’ll be promoting this game with my wife’s siblings who have children (or to be honest: anyone that asks). But calling it just a ‘kid’s game’ would be to truly underestimate the appeal and the utility of this game.

With a massive built-in vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, some of which no normal child should know nor conceive of, this is a game that adults can apply their own logic and intelligence to. For instance, how did I stop an evil gunman from killing Maxwell’s local sheriff-friend? Nothing ‘Friendly Cthulhu’ couldn’t solve. Yes, Maxwell wanted me to help his friend, so I summoned an Elder God.

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

The game does have a few minor faults, but nothing serious. I suppose it speaks volumes to just how freaking good this game is that my primary complaint is there simply wasn’t enough of it. Scribblenauts Remix only contains four worlds and each world only had ten different challenges. This might sound like quite a bit, but some of the challenges -especially the earlier ones- are very easy to solve, especially for a savvy adult. Still, for only $1.99, I felt that it was more than a bargain for the level of enjoyment I received.

My only other complaint is that I felt that there were too many challenges that weren’t truly open-ended. Some of the puzzles had you looking for -and sometimes guessing about- very specific things. I can understand the need for this; if every challenge could be resolved just by typing in Cthulhu or Laser Death Ray, then the game wouldn’t have been fun or challenging at all. However, the sheer specificity of some of the challenges might be too difficult for a child to overcome and I felt it constrained the fundamental strength of the game by not allowing you to fully use your imagination to find alternate solutions. That being said, there were only a handful of these kinds of challenges, not a significant portion of the game.

Those two things aside, this game is magical. If you are an adult, you will love this: it will challenge you and let you stretch your mind and your vocabulary. If you are a parent, you will love this: not only is it pure educational game-play for your child, but it’s an excellent opportunity to play a game with your child and share some of your knowledge with them. For all of the benefits this game can provide, for the fun and humor, the intelligence and the glorification of grammar and vocabulary, this game is a bargain for the discerning app gaming enthusiast and supports a type of gameplay that sorely needs more attention. This is gaming done right and done intelligently and is a sterling example of how ‘gaming’ can be a truly positive force in both a child’s life and in an adult’s life.

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