Is Scribblenauts the most pure “sandbox” game yet?

3 10 2009

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You can’t help but be impressed by developer 5TH Cell’s latest DS release, Scribblenauts. It’s a game full of imagination: from its paper doll aesthetic to the soundtrack seeped in childish joy to avatar Maxwell’s red rooster hat, imagination drips from its every crannie. Even the puzzles are as open-ended as goal-driven video game conventions allow, letting you lay down whatever elaborate plan strikes your fancy by summoning any item that isn’t offensive or copyrighted. If you can think of it, it’s most likely in there and will behave very closely to its real (or fictional) counterpart.

The dictionary gives the player unprecedented reign over the game world and single-handidly puts Maxwell on the top of the sandbox-gaming subgenre. Yes, even more so than Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series or any of the games heavily influenced by it. The map may be small, but the world of Scribblenauts is much bigger.

And this is all done before the main menu is even opened, on a stretch of level no larger than a small room by Metroid standards. GTA’s sprawling cityscape offer plenty of opportunities for shenanigans, but you have to make due with the toys already there. You have full control over the players and narrative on Maxwell’s open little stage, free to summon virtually anything you can think of .

It would be naive to say that Scribblenauts is completely open, because it’s not. Somewhere down the line, the innovative dictionary does run out of entries, and puzzles do require certain things to happen, be it buttons that need pushing or category-specific items needing to spawn. Of course, there’s no current, viable way to make a game world really endless, but Scribblenauts is so far probably the closest any developer has come.

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