- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

A funny thing happened while playing Scribblenauts (Warner Bros. Interactive, $29.99). Children magically huddled around my DSi screen as the action transcended from complex puzzler to liberator of imaginations.

That’s a pretty powerful attraction for a game further boasting an educational component that has youngsters spell words to get a desired result.

The beauty of Scribblenauts is that nearly anything or any character can appear in the cartoony universe, as long as the child can come close to typing or writing his idea correctly.

The creative learning process is a wonder to watch, especially in group environments, as children push the limits of the software and its more-than-10,000-word vocabulary.

But I digress. As a puzzle game, Scribblenauts more than fulfills its mission in more than 200 levels. It requires that a player guide the avatar, Max, through a cartoony environment to help another character or grab a star-shaped icon called, no surprise, a starite.

Within 10 realms, he accesses more than 20 mostly platformed conundrums, strictly not abiding by any rules to find a solution. Get that starite by avoiding, overcoming or helping with the liberal use of whatever stuff comes to mind.

Using a notepad, the player either writes down his request using the DS stylus and touch screen or taps letters on a qwerty keyboard interface to produce an object. If the word isn’t spelled correctly, a box pops up to offer alternate spellings or to ask which definition of a word is meant, as in whether “submarine” means the vehicle or the sandwich.

Max can use objects, such as a blowtorch; can ride in an armored tank; can give objects to others to use; or can help a whale back into the ocean with an assist from a bulldozer.

Solving a puzzle also leads to scoring through the number of objects used, time taken and merits for solution. The player receives Ollars that are spent to buy new realms, avatars and song tracks.

As one might imagine, the puzzles are as diverse as the available objects. In one, Max needs to give Santa something he likes but does not already have at the North Pole. In another, the object is to get past a pool of piranhas. A third has Max coaxing a unicorn to reunite with his druid owners.

I found items such as a ladder, jetpack, rope and rocket-propelled grenade indispensable, but my limited imagination should be ignored at all costs. Why not build a ramp with sports cars or drop a raptor into the water to keep a hungry shark occupied?

Although adults will appreciate this game, it is built for a child’s unbridled creativity.

Pushing the game to its limits should be mandatory just to see the results. So, I typed in “God.” By golly, he appeared. In the Scribblenauts universe “God” translates into a guy with a flowing robe and long white beard.

A bystander suggested I try adding the devil and God quickly dispatched him. I then tossed in a vampire for fun; it immediately attacked the deity and turned him into one of the undead. That’s more than worthy of a head scratch and a dinnertime discussion.

Also, I can’t write enough about the word exploration and social component involved here. The game opens up the dictionary for youngsters and encourages interactivity among all family members as they confer on “How do you spell … ?” or “What would I use if … ?”

It’s an experience unrivaled by many strictly educational programs.

More amazing, a really detailed level editor exists for a player to create his own puzzles and even send them via WiFi to friends who also have the game.

Scribblenauts will never stop surprising players while opening them up to a world of words, relationships and new levels of imagination.

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