They say the average adult knows somewhere between 20,000-35,000 words, but Scribblenauts Showdown's quickfire mini-games don't half have a way of making you feel like you know about four. Case in point, for a mini-game that sees you having to race said animal around a running track, think of an animal beginning with N, quick! Too slow! Somehow, the best we could come up with was "Narwhal" - and that doesn't even have legs. Thankfully, though, with no online multiplayer, you'll almost always find your friends end up in exactly the same panicking pickle as you do when you're playing someone in the same room- hence the genuinely tight race we ended up having, as a beached Narwhal took on Nessie round the track.
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As you can probably guess, then, Scribblenauts Showdown is a game that puts your mental dictionary to the test. Having resurrected the long-thought-dead Scribblenauts series from beyond the grave, Showdown is a game that's both very similar, and very different to the word based antics that have come before it. Divided into two halves, the game comes with both a pretty substantial "Sandbox" mode, which provides a slower paced, puzzle-based style of play, as you consult your cranium to find a fitting word to solve a compilation of problems, and over two dozen much faster paced, multiplayer-oriented mini-games, which force you to think of the very best item you can to match a very specific query, in a short amount of time.
Seeing as they're what's new, we may as well start with the mini-games first. Along with the ability to play against the computer, or against a friend in a straight forward series of one on one battles, the real highlight of Showdown is the game's titular Showdown mode, which supports up to four players. Plonking you on a Mario Party style game board, before dishing you a load of cards, it's up to you to quite literally play your cards right to make your way from one end of the board to the other, with each card having a variety of effects.
Some are instant, sending players back (or forward) several spaces, while for the vast majority, you'll need to win whatever mini-game the card shows in order to reap its rewards. Whether you're playing for the ability to move forward three or four spaces, or you'll simply get to draw a card or two extra, nothing is final until the mini-game has been won. Pitting you against a (usually) random opponent, you'll face off one-on-one in a mini-game, with some cards having a specific game you'll compete on, with others offering a best of three series.
The mini-games themselves are split into "speedy" and "wordy" types. Speedy types are definitely the weaker of the two here, with most relying more on luck than anything else. One sees you tossing an alarm clock between the two of you, hoping you won't be left holding onto it when it goes off; others see you shaking the PS4 controller to pump up a balloon, or hammering two buttons alternately to swing an axe at a tree -but no matter whether you're button mashing or simply wanging the controller around, neither really feels all that reliable. In fact, even if you're alternating your button hammering properly, you can end up going "too fast" for the game to recognise, leaving your character just standing there doing nothing.
Others are a lot better. Some see you running around with a basket, trying to catch apples as they fall from the sky, while two more are rhythm action style games - one asking you to push up/down/left/right in time with some arrows that appear (even if they don't sync at all with the music), while another is more of a quick time event than a music game, as you wait for a falling note to turn gold before mashing the button shown on screen to grab it for yourself.
Regardless of what Speedy game you play though, there are very few that can even come close to being as good as the wordy ones. Here, the game feels a lot more like a Scribblenauts game, as you actually have to use your brain, and come up with a word. You might have to think of a small item of food beginning with T, something pointy beginning with S, or a plastic item that starts with a letter of your choosing - which you're going to be serving up in a diner. If your item matches the chosen category, you'll get a bonus in the game, which usually makes your item worth more points, or more effective. Should you manage to come up with a really obscure (yet still correct) word, you'll get an even bigger advantage.
What you have to come up with widely depends on the game. In Drone Drop, you have to use your drone to deliver an item to a number of pads, scattered around the level. The trick here is to go for the largest object possible, with bigger objects getting bigger scores. In our experience, planets are pretty much unbeatable - just be sure you don't clip anything in the level, as it'll reset you to the start.
One of the highlights, though, is Medieval Mayhem. This is a game that's kind of a like a Smash Bros style face off, as you and a friend take each other on in one on one combat. Here, you're given a letter, and have to choose an item to use as a weapon, with pretty much the only rule being it can't be an animal (or too big). With the pressure piling on, this can lead to some genuinely crazy combinations - like when we were forced to choose something beginning with H, and ended up with a hubcap versus some hedge clippers. Amazingly, it's even possible to choose a weapon that doesn't actually do any damage - with Scribblenauts suggesting a few items to you once you've entered three letters, it's entirely possible to just choose from a list and end up with something you've got no idea what it is - as we did, when we ended up with what was essentially a flower versus a potato.
As much fun as the mini-games are though, we do wish you could just set up a random four player mini-game mash without having to worry about the card/board game of Sandbox mode. With the individual mini-games only supporting two players, if you want to get four players involved, there's no way of just playing some mini-games in a rapid fire format, which is a bit of a shame.
But while the mini-games will keep you busy for a fair while, there's a whole other game to get to grips with beneath the surface here too. The game's aforementioned Sandbox mode is much more puzzle based, and fully playable in same-screen local co-op, giving you an area to explore, and a number of people within it who need your help, courtesy of your magic dictionary. To give you at least some sort of clue about where to start, you'll be given a list of problems in each area to solve - whether it's a school trip to the zoo who need some help finishing their scavenger trail, a chimpanzee in the jungle who needs to be brought "back down to earth", or even some more cryptic clues, like "one musician is not like the others". After exploring the level, and figuring out who it is you need to help, you'll need to set about figuring out what it is they might need - and there's usually several ways of solving each problem.
A great example of this is the quest titled "Man's Best Friend". A businessman on a ship is feeling lonely, and he needs a furry buddy - but while the unimaginative might just spawn a dog and be done with it, the more creative might try something else. An Akita, Great Dane, Malamute, Dalmatian, Chihuahua, Doberman, Labrador and even a Labradoodle would solve the quest - and, brilliantly, the game recognises them all, with each creating an in game dog that looks just like the real thing!
And perhaps that's one of the best things about Scribblenauts Showdown - the ability to experiment, and solve the puzzles and quests on your own. Whether you're seeing what the daftest way you can solve one of the Sandbox mode's riddles is, or you end up panicking your way into spawning something ridiculous in one of the mini-games, it's that randomness that keeps the game feeling fresh - and gives it so much of its humour. Though half the speedy mini-games are, for the most part, not worth the space they take up on the disc, the rest of Scribblenauts Showdown is well worth a look, whether you're a fan of the old games, or just fancy some often weird mini-game madness with your mates - even if we do miss the memes the older games had (no keyboard cat - boo!)
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4