Getting schooled by a scribblenaut

I like words.  I write a lot of them everyday in different contexts.  I think I have a fairly good grasp of the English language and understand the difference between nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  My confidence in my grammatical abilities has occasionally wavered, but never did it so much as when I played Super Scribblenauts on the Nintendo DS.

Super Scribblenauts cover art © Nintendo, Warner Bros.
Super Scribblenauts cover art © Nintendo, Warner Bros., 5th Cell (source)

Super Scribblenauts was released to favorable reviews in late 2010, and it was the last game I got for my DS before my departure from handheld (non-mobile) gaming.  I was on something of a puzzle game kick at that point with Professor Layton and Picross 3D, and this game readily fell into that niche.  I briefly debated on whether or not to play the first Scribblenauts game, but none of the reviews I read said that it was an absolute prerequisite. And with a sale and a couple coupons, I got Super Scribblenauts at a price comparable to the original.

Super Scribblenaut’s side-scrolling premise was pretty simple. You played as a little guy named Maxwell with a star on his shirt and a pencil in his hand.  His goal was to collect “starites” by inputting words, mainly adjectives and nouns, to complete puzzles.  You had to use your imagination to come up with the word or words to finish a puzzle and get the starites in each level.

From YouTube user GamesMediaPro.

Super Scribblenauts was super cute, and there seemed to be an almost endless combination of words and phrases that could be used to complete any given puzzle.  There weren’t really any “right” answers (though the game did have a vocabulary), so long as your answers fit the puzzle’s parameters.

I’ll reiterate here that I like words; and I liked Super Scribblenauts until, that is, it revealed a very personal and very significant deficiency:

I have no imagination.

Cause the king of the jungle gets tired too, y'know. (source)
Cause the king of the jungle gets tired too, y’know. (source)

Yes indeed, Super Scribblenauts revealed the terrible fact that I take the world too literally. In those moments when I needed to create a hairy pink ladder or a giant electric fuzzy armadillo, I couldn’t.  I simply couldn’t muster the necessary creativity. I progressed fine through levels where the answers were obvious; but I simply sunk when I had to come up with a magical string of words out of thin air. Ultimately, Super Scribblenauts made me feel old, inflexible, and terribly pedestrian.


Super Scribblenauts did not make me want to crawl under a rock and die (even though large parts of my imaginative childhood apparently had already).  I mean, I did kinda hate myself for being so bad at this fun title (and it really is a fun game, if you have the mind for it), but it made me take a step back from my relationship not only with games but also with writing. I had fallen into something of a rut with both and decided to re-evaluate things, see if and how I could remove a few roadblocks.  This was all during a period of transition, long commutes, moving, etc.; and while I don’t have the fondest memories of Super Scribblenauts, it came at a fortuitous time.  It planted the seeds for this blog, in fact, as I thought then about ways to be more creative with my writing.

It's hard to not smile at all the cuteness. Plus, everyone talks in pictures!  (source)
It’s hard to not smile at all the cuteness. Plus, everyone talks in pictures! (source)

So while I look back upon Super Scribblenauts with notions of what could have been, I look forward with a bit of thankfulness.  I’m glad that the game brought forth disappointment because it compelled me to expand, and it schooled me in ways no other game had before.


  1. Reblogged this on My Two Caps and commented:
    A thoughtful look at what Super Scribblenauts can draw out of it’s players and the effect it can have. This post from Recollections of Play isn’t a review so much as it is an exploration of the impact even some of the smaller games can have on us. Seriously, check out this post and the blog with it, they both make for excellent reading.


  2. Super Scribblenauts sounds like an entirely different kind of puzzle game, one that focuses on creativity over everything else. It would be cool to see more games focus on a player’s creativity rather than just their observational skills or their ability to learn from trial and error.


    1. Yep — and because no two people think alike, Super Scribblenauts offers a unique experience for every person who plays it too. It really does a fantastic job at making you think “outside the box”…especially if that box needs to be filled with yellow polka-dotted electric eels. I wouldn’t want to be in that box!

      P.S. The reblog – yay! 🙂


  3. I have played the first, but not the second Scribblenauts game. It is definitely a cute game. It’s right up there with any games involving Kirby or Pokemon. What is great about the game is that it invites you to stretch out your imagination. I remember spending a good few hours on the first game trying to come up with as many creative ways as possible to solve the puzzles. I wanted to see what the game was capable of, based on what I can think of on a whim.


    1. I had a fine time with the puzzles in Super Scribblenauts, to a point. I think the game probably required a bit more attention than I wanted to give it. I read some great things about the first game and thought the second one was a shoe-in for a good time. I came up with some great phrases, but in the end, my frustrations got the best of me. I think I was also a little over my DS at that point, which probably contributed to my lack of enthusiasm. And though I don’t have plans to get a Wii U, I bet its new Scribblenauts game will be pretty good.


  4. This is the second time — in recent memory — that a game has been introduced to a player at a really helpful time. I love that this can actually be a thing. Games connect, in meaningful ways. I’m glad to see that they can be MORE effective in certain contexts.

    Or maybe a different sort of effective.


    1. It’s so true that games can connect to life in lots of different ways; and it’s even better when they help with some aspect of it! I never would have expected to react to Super Scribblenauts in the way I did and would have hardly thought the game would any lasting effects. But now, when I get really stuck in writing, I think, “What would Maxwell do?” And It’s not like I’ll start writing about green plastic cavemen, but rather, it gives me a moment to gather a little lost creativity. It IS a different sort of effective!


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