Hands On with Scribblenauts Showdown's co-op sandbox and competitive mini-games

Dust off your dictionaries and buff up your vocabulary for the lovable word 'em up's return

Hands On with Scribblenauts Showdowns co-op sandbox and competitive mini-games
20th February, 2018 By Sarah Morris

We love something a little bit different and creative here at Everybody Plays - and there are few things more creative than Scribblenauts, a series which tasks you with using your vocabulary to solve puzzles in clever ways. Unfortunately, the series has had a bit of a troubled time as of late, with some games seeing lengthy delays before hitting these shores, along with a total no-show for its more recent Wii U release, but it looks like it's all in the past now, with a new developer at the helm, and a brand new instalment landing in a few weeks time, in the form of Scribblenauts Showdown. In the name of journalistic integrity, we took it upon ourselves to find out more, taking a trip down to Warner Bros. HQ to wrangle with the game's mini-games, take on its co-op story mode, and take notes with an oversized comedy pencil - it's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

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Scribblenauts Showdown Screenshot

Perhaps we should have gone easy on the sandwiches, or stuck to something light like a grand piano as per grandma here.

Taking on a little bit more of a multiplayer approach, the Showdown in Scribblenauts Showdown comes from the game's mini-games - some two dozen or so, which can be played by up to four players, and are split into two types. Speedy mini-games are fairly bog-standard affairs, which see you jumping around a tree house to catch the most fireflies, shaking your controller as fast as you can to dig up a treasure chest before your opponent, or racing to climb up a rope, past whales blowing water your way, puffins soaring above your head and yetis throwing snowballs - all of which will knock you back a bit if you get hit.

Scribblenauts Showdown Screenshot

Shake your controller to whack the pinata - and whoever pummels it the most, wins.

But arguably the most interesting mini-games here are the "wordy" ones, where, in traditional Scribblenauts style, you'll need to use your noggin to out-vocabulary your opponent, and create objects with the help of your magical dictionary, to beat your opponent in a quick fire word-off.

To give you an idea of how this works, one of the simplest games here is a rhythm action dance off - a game that may not sound wordy at first, but as it forces you to use the Scribblenauts dictionary to enter a word to choose your character first, things suddenly get a bit more interesting. Giving you a category such as "people that wear hats," or "people who play music", it's up to you to enter a word - and the more imaginative your choice, and the more on point it is in relation to the category, the more bonus points you'll get. Once you've got Mozart facing off against a piano tuner, or a police man dancing with an archer, it's a simple matter of matching the directional button inputs in time with the music to win.

Scribblenauts Showdown Screenshot

Emo vs sax guy? Who knows....

Sometimes there's a surprising amount of strategy involved in what you pick, though, like in the game's eating contest (pictured at the top of this article). Here, again, the game gives you a general category to choose from - like "things you might eat for breakfast", but the twist is that bigger dishes would take longer to eat, putting you at an inherent disadvantage, regardless of whether you matched the category or not. In a similar vein, bigger can be better in the 'Drone Drop' game, where you play a helicopter, delivering whatever items you can think of to various drop points around the map, with heavier items earning you more points with each drop off than lighter ones. Rather than giving you a category, the game instead simply asks you to enter the largest item you can that begins with a certain letter - one sneaky games journalist discovered that planets are basically the ultimate object, because what can you get that begins with a J, and is heavier than Jupiter? Not a jumbo jet, that's for sure.

Scribblenauts Showdown Screenshot

Less plate spinning and more plate flinging - for this you need to keep dishing out food to customers and collecting their plates. Although 'food' is a little open to interpretation here...

The one we had the most fun with, though, was a fairly standard Smash Bros-esque beat 'em up. Here, you and your foe are having a fight to the death, and you get to choose your weapon of choice. With the spinner giving you a letter your weapon must begin with, it's up to you to enter the most deadly item you can image that begins with the right letter, leading to contests of rocket launchers vs rocket propelled grenades, pistols vs potherbs and hubcaps vs hedge clippers - even if hedge clippers did only come about because we were actually after a hedgehog, and seemingly Scribblenauts can't endorse animal cruelty... That same logic is the reason we also found ourselves in the battle of a sandwich versus a snake fruit. But what really took the biscuit was when we had to pick a weapon beginning with M - a magnum seemed the obvious choice, but that left our opponent in a bit of a pickle, who panicked, entered a few letters, and chose the longest word seemingly at random - one which ended up seemingly being a spanish word for a potato. In a contest of bullets vs a potato-like projectile, there's no prizes for guessing who won (actually - the potato!)

But there's more to Scribblenauts than two dozen solid mini-games - even if we haven't really heard all that much about it up until now. The game's Sandbox mode, for example, offers some traditional Scribblenauts gameplay, only this time with the ability to solve puzzles in co-op, too. Plonking you into a world where characters have a number of problems to solve, and the only one who can solve them is you (and your magical, item creating dictionary), each stage is a large, open area with multiple people in need of a hand.

In our demo, we found ourselves on board a cruise ship, with a dozen or so separate objectives to complete - and a list of hints to point you in the right direction. Perhaps it's a waitress who's struggling to read the small print on the drinks menu, in which case you need to conjure an item to help her out - we went for the obvious pair of glasses, but we suppose you could equally go for a telescope, magnifying glass or binoculars. Half of the fun of Scribblenauts is coming up with the most outlandish solution to a problem and the hilarity that then ensues, as you get a stuck cat down from the roof of a house by torching the house instead (with a dragon, naturally) - accidentally barbecuing poor Tiddles in the process. Speaking of things not going quite as planned, we did learn that trying to clean a sunbather with a sponge we'd created seems to constitute some kind of assault, as the swimsuit clad lady was not too chuffed with our attempts at shining her up. In Scribblenauts, though, the pen is always mightier than the sword, and by pulling up the game's object editor, we added a quick "sleepy" adjective to her, putting her out cold in a matter of seconds. As with the last few Scribblenauts games, adjectives can really come into their own in the Sandbox mode - although it's worth noting you don't actually seem to be able to use them in the mini-games.

Sometimes, though, the clues the game gave us were a little more obtuse. For example, the ship's cook wanted to feed the crew a balanced meal - spotting the steak on the side, logic dictated he might want some potatoes or veg to go with it, but he didn't seem to have a clue what to do with the salad we gave him. Cooking the steak didn't seem to do much either, so on a whim, we decided to give him a single, solitary sausage - and he was over the moon, quest complete. While the NHS may not agree it constitutes a healthy, balanced meal, this is a chef who clearly knows what his sailors like.

Scribblenauts Showdown Screenshot

Seeing as our capture box broke on the day, we don't have any pics of the sandbox mode, so you'll just have to make do with a screen of the speedy tug-of-war game instead

And as a great example of how weird these solutions can get (and how impressive the game's built in dictionary is), a little further down from the kitchen, stood a lonely scientist, with the clue that "two scientists are better than one". Figuring our Einstein needed a Mrs Einstein to keep him company, we decided to get him a lady scientist to give him a helping hand during those long, late night lab sessions. Yet even a ravishing female scientist wasn't enough to cheer up our pouting prof - something was still missing, and we quickly figures out what. After all, what's a scientist without some science to do? Realising his first love would always be experiments, we got him a hadron collider for the pair to bond over, and hey presto - quest complete.

Sadly, our time with Scribblenauts Showdown was as short as it was sweet, and we didn't get chance to test out the titular 'Showdown' mode, which sounds like a mini-game-filled board game of sorts, in a similar vein to Mario Party. Still, we're very much looking forward to the game's release next month, on the 9th March, where it hits not just the Nintendo Switch, but also the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, marking the series' first foray outside of Nintendo platforms.

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