Thursday, September 17, 2009

ScribbleNauts: Addendum

Well I’ve played another couple of hours of ScribbleNauts and I’m not sure how much further I’ll be able to get.

I guess I should have read the reviews.

The controls are shaky and erratic. My avatar only occasionally does what I intend him to do when a level is more complex than a flat plane (he sometimes moves when I want him to interact; he sometimes tries to interact when I want him to move; he moves erratically or too far).

Goals and victory conditions are often difficult to figure out. Part of this is due to the fact that you can’t get a reminder of what your goals are during game play and part is due to unclear writing (which is extra strange given that the game is about using words). But the largest part is due to the fact that my mind can’t imagine the possibility-space in the exact same way that the developers did. Knowing my objective and then having to figure out ways to achieve it can be fun. Having to guess what my objective is, within the context of this game, is not fun.

So far, my most useful strategy when there are creatures standing between me and my goal is to summon a bear. He kills all the other creatures and then I just throw him in the trash. It was fun the first time (there was a beehive, bee, and fish – so he attacked the bee to get the honey and then jumped in the water to eat the fish) but is getting a bit repetitive. And there doesn’t seem to be a counter-bear – at least yet.

There are other details that have been detracting from my experience:

  • Gameshell UI is puzzling – and not in a good way. It’s hard to tell which element you have selected, and some elements don’t actually look selectable (like the wi-fi icon) or are hard to interpret (the action vs. puzzle mode toggle looks like an explosion).
  • Gameshell flow results in me restarting the first level of every new area by mistake. Over and over. When you complete a level within an new area, instead of defaulting to the next available level, the game defaults to the first area of that level. Whoops.
  • Game progression was hard to figure out – resulting in me getting stuck partway through the first area. At first glance, this game seemed to be like many other unlock-based games. Complete all levels within an area/world and then unlock the next area/world. Not so with this game. New worlds can be purchased at any time as long as you have enough “ollars”. So I almost quit out because I was stuck on area/world 1 and didn’t realize I could just switch worlds to progress further.

Following up on the last bullet: What I’m really waiting for is to figure out whether or not I’ll have the same feeling I had in Braid when I finally “got it”. This happened when I realized that I could see all the content by just blowing through each level – and that I could take what I learned from future levels and bring them back to “complete” previous levels I was only partially able to finish. The end result was supremely satisfying.

I’m imagining that in ScribbleNauts I’m also expected to get stuck in certain areas and then move on to other areas until I happen upon an item or solution that I can then bring back to my early problem-child level.

The thing is: I found this completely acceptable within the design and fiction of Braid. That game was all about going forward and backward in time; and the levels were designed to be easily “finished” for people who wanted to move ahead to the next world. They could come back later if they wanted to unlock some of the extra secrets.

For some reason, however, this doesn’t resonate with me for ScribbleNauts. There was nothing about either the fiction or the Gameshell UI flow that led me to believe this was anything other than an unlock-as-you-go game. When this is combined with the fact that my avatar is hard to control and levels are hard to complete because I can’t fathom the objectives, it makes me want to stop playing.

I’ll push on some more tomorrow and see whether I have that “eureka” moment. 

1 comment:

Michael said...

More or less have to agree with you. I played someone's copy for 10 minutes and felt pretty happy in my decision not to buy it. It always came off as the type of game with some impressive technical idea and a shaky game mechanic built on top of it, and not something I could see myself playing and enjoying for a good amount of time.