Scribblenauts Showdown: review

  • Format: Xbone (version reviewed), PS4, Switch
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
  • Developer: Shiver Entertainment
  • Players: 1-4 (offline only)
  • Site:
  • Game code provided by Xbox

When a new Scribblenauts was announced, there was a lot of noise from potential punters, which sort of sounded like this: “Hooraayyy!!”. As solid details emerged, however, the noise changed to something which sort of sounded like this: “Hmmm”.

It’s recognisably Scribblenauts. The same childlike art design has been retained, its simplicity and bold colours looking wonderful on pretty much any display. You can still summon objects, creatures, and people into being – and change their properties – by simply spelling out the right nouns or adjectives. Whereas fans are used to this system being used to help NPCs and solve puzzles in a 2D semi-open-world, however, Showdown ambushes the series, grabs it tightly, and bungee-jumps into a more firmly defined genre; the minigame collection.

Against a CPU opponent or up to three friends/family/priests/etc, you’ll be mashing buttons, moving each analogue stick up and down alternately, matching on-screen button prompts, and so on. The context for this joypad abuse includes fishing, sprinting, a guitar face-off, a race climbing up ropes while avoiding attacks from penguins and yetis, and more. Taking over from 5th Cell, new devs at the helm Shiver Entertainment provide the experience with extra garnish by harnessing (some of) the core ideas of the franchise.

Before a minigame starts, each player will be asked to spell out a noun beginning with a randomly-selected letter. That object/living thing will then play a part in the game in some way. For the sprinting minigame, for example, your choice will be what you sit on top of to race. Given an ‘O’, for example, you could choose to race on an ostrich or an oceanographer. Or many, many other things – the depth of the Scribblenauts library is, as usual, impressive.

Don’t just stand there mate.

The idea, therefore, is to encourage the players to help make the experience as funny and surreal as possible. It works – and somehow, perhaps not quite in the intended way. Choose a bean for the eating contest minigame – believing yourself clever for choosing a tiny meal – and you’ll be presented with an improbably huge one. On one eating contest occasion, displaying an unforeseen consequence of the innocence of youth, one of our youngest contestants chose to eat a toddler. Yes, a toddler. Uncomfortable as it was to watch the blankly smiling avatar eating a small human child, the fact that it would occasionally wail unhappily made the situation downright disturbing.

Theoretically, therefore, the game is entertaining almost by default (play the deathmatch-style game, and you don’t want to be the one armed with a banana when your opponent has a bomb). Whether you primarily play to win or play for laughs is entirely up to you, which is a great stance for a game to take. However, most of the minigames themselves are quite frankly overfamiliar; and the fact that Showdown isn’t as ambitious, inventive, or – yes – fun as a ‘normal’ Scribblenauts game shines an unflattering light on the project.

Those who sigh wistfully, looking back at previous entries, will squeeze some fun out of the freeplay mode. This gives you a variety of environments to simply explore and mess around in with no pressure, and even includes some simplified NPC tasks. Each area is incredibly small though, unlikely to provide entertainment for any significant amount of time.

At the end of the day, this struggles to rise above ‘minigame collection that squanders the Scribblenauts licence’ status. No amount of avatar customisation, or framing a collection of minigames as a board game, can paper over that. There are definitely laughs to be had here but, when it comes to you as a player being unfaithful to the main series, consider this a brief fling rather than a long-term relationship.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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