Super Scribblenauts is in a precarious position. Coming out just one year after the release of its imaginative predecessor, the second adventure in dictionary land doesn't have the luxury of relying on novelty. Once you've dabbled with the ability to conjure thousands of objects on the fly, it's hard to feel the same rush you had the first time you brought a monocle-wearing walrus to life or pitted a snowman against a velociraptor in a fight to the death. In some ways, Super Scribblenauts is an improvement over the original. There is now a D pad alternative to the cumbersome touch-screen controls, and the inclusion of adjectives lets you modify the already impressive number of nouns to a staggering degree. But even though the core mechanics have been refined, the puzzle-themed levels are significantly worse. The carefree freedom from the original has been stripped away, and in the process, the magic has fizzled out. Super Scribblenauts is still fun if you're just testing your extensive vocabulary in sandbox mode, but the flat puzzles fail to capture the special feeling of the original.
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One of the most important changes to Super Scribblenauts is to the controls. Previously, the touch screen handled all of your in-game interactions, which lead to aggravating deaths and a crushing lack of precision. While that option is still available in Super Scribblenauts, you now have the choice to use the D pad to move Maxwell, and it's a welcome change from the clunky original. Because both lateral movement and jumping are mapped to the pad, you can use one hand to control the hero while your other hand is free to use the stylus to type in words or interact with objects. The physics system has also been overhauled. Objects have been given more weight now, which makes it easier to keep everything in check. Adjectives have been thrown into the mix as well. While this doesn't drastically alter the experience, it's certainly fun seeing what a cheeky zombie is like or creating a vengeful, robotic god to dole out some Futuristic Testament justice. And if you ever wanted to see an anthropomorphic surfboard, now's your chance.
Although the basics have been improved in Super Scribblenauts, the level design is a serious step backward. In the original game, levels were broken down into action and puzzle stages. In the sequel, aside from a few bonus stages late in the game, every level is of the puzzle variety. You enter a situation and have a question posed to you. For instance, you may need to create the individual parts of a snowman or find the missing link in a lineup of animals. There is good variety in the types of puzzles you encounter, which should keep you on your toes, but the solutions are extremely limited. In one puzzle, you have to arm town people against angry invaders. Weapons, such as guns and knives, do the trick just fine, but a number of problems become apparent if you try to be original. Giving a hoe or brick to a villager doesn't register in the slightest. Furthermore, a knife, spear, and axe all count as the same device, and a whip is promptly ignored. By painting you into a corner, the puzzles in Super Scribblenauts present a test of trivial knowledge rather than ways for you to express your creative freedom.
But the problems stretch far deeper than unimaginative puzzles. Real-world logic does not always apply, which means you have to guess what answer the game has in mind rather than use your instinctual response. In one level, you have to feed a hungry dog. This should be easy because dogs eat just about anything, but that's far from the case. If you try to give it tasty meat, the dog may turn up its nose and walk away. Instead, you have to give it dog food. Yes, dogs do eat dog food, but no sane mutt would deny the culinary pleasure of a hunk of a delicious chop. This issue crops up again and again in a huge variety of punishing ways. In a different stage, you have to recruit teachers to work at a college. You have to fill a wide pool of subjects, but only the most obvious, general disciplines are accepted. A math teacher is all well and good, but don't even think about being able to make a Spanish or chemistry teacher. The in-game hint system is even more troubling; it urges you to make a health teacher, but if you type in those words, nothing happens. The game forces you to run through the list of synonyms until you finally arrive on nutritionist or dietitian. Just about every puzzle plays out in this manner, which makes for an aggravating experience that rarely embraces the unrestrained fun of the original game.
Although the majority of the puzzles in Super Scribblenauts follow this inconsistent thought process, there are a few rays of light that make you realize how much fun this could have been. In one early stage, you have to initiate a mass extinction of the dinosaurs. A huge array of deadly catastrophes work here, such as a flesh-eating virus and a flood, and trying to come up with off-the-wall ways to kill these terrible lizards is a riotous good time. In another level, you play the part of a magician in a stage show. You have to figure out how to make a lion disappear without letting your nosy audience see what you're up to. Getting the lion to move while you activate certain switches isn't the most elaborate example of this game's impressive vocabulary, but it's a novel conundrum that puts a humorous twist on your efforts. There are also a few clever changes to objects from the previous game which make them fun to test out again. For example, you can now take the time machine to different periods in history. Little tweaks such as these call back to what made the original such a breath of fresh air a year ago.
One of the problems with the original Scribblenauts was that the levels were so open ended you could use just about anything to complete them. Players could rely on the same words over and over, such as using wings to reach a high ledge, which made it an easy and repetitive game. That problem has been rectified in Super Scribblenauts, but the solution has snuffed out much of the creative spark before giving it the chance to ignite. This is a dull experience in which esoteric knowledge is more important than the fun of letting your imagination run wild. The original allowed tons of different ways to pass each level, which made it fun to replay stages to figure out wacky ways to reach the goal. For anyone willing to move beyond the wings-solves-all trap, there was a deep and rewarding experience waiting for you. But no such depth awaits the eager wordsmith in Super Scribblenauts. The limited solutions allow such little variance that everything becomes predictable before long.
Because of the suffocating levels in the single-player game, Super Scribblenauts is at its best in the anything-goes sandbox mode. This is where the beauty of these unique mechanics is given the opportunity to really shine. There are no goals or objectives here, so you're free to dip into your vocabulary well to pull up whatever crazy ideas reside in your brain. There are tens of thousands of objects to play around with in Super Scribblenauts, most with its own unique look and characteristics. Thus, being able to see what you can come up with by scouring the closest dictionary can be a lot of fun. Watching the mythical nuckelavee square off against the Internet meme longcat is always a treat, and you have a near-limitless wealth of ideas to play around with when you add a few adjectives into the mix. It's a shame this carefree attitude didn't translate into the puzzle levels, but this is still an enthralling mode that offers a great opportunity to just be silly.
Super Scribblenauts wastes its amazing object-creation mechanic. The huge improvement to the core mechanics may lead you to believe this is a better experience than the rough-around-the-edges original, but that is sadly not the case. The levels are so restrictive that things spiral down into boring territory rather quickly, forcing you to think of ultraspecific solutions instead of letting your imagination take control. The wealth of creative ideas at your fingertips feels like a cruel tease here because you're rarely able to take advantage of them. Super Scribblenauts is still fun if you enjoy tinkering around in the sandbox mode, but the bland puzzles in the single-player levels don't live up to their incredible potential.