At a time when high-octane, fast-paced FPS games dominate the player vs. player space, Scribblenauts Showdown is a breath of fresh air. With a cutesy animation style, jaunty music, and overall light tone, this game is probably the last thing players might picture when they hear the word ‘showdown’, but it absolutely makes it work.
In line with its simplistic style, the gameplay is not overly complicated: type in words to create objects or apply adjectives to things, and use said items in competitive minigames or to solve puzzles.
The true victory of Scribblenauts Showdown is its typing mechanic. As a game that relies on you typing in the names of objects in order to solve puzzles and complete minigames, I was initially bracing myself for the tedious process of trying to navigate a QWERTY keyboard with a controller and I could not have been more thrilled to be wrong. Instead, typing in Scribblenauts Showdown relies on a letter wheel wherein you use a thumbstick to select a group of four letters and then use the correspondingly-located button to choose the right letter. The system is very easy to use and within a few minutes, you’ll be able to conjure up a huge range of objects in rapid succession.
And there is a tremendous range to choose from. As with previous titles in the Scribblenauts series, Showdown gives players an impressive level of freedom when it comes to interacting with the game world. While it’s certainly possible to test words that the game doesn’t have an answer for, the vast majority of items or adjectives you want to use are available to you.
It’s perhaps to Scribblenauts Showdown’s detriment then that this central mechanic is only really put to use in the game’s Sandbox mode. The titular ‘showdown’ elements of the game only generally require players to select a single item at the start of the round which will then influence the difficulty of the minigame. While this does allow for a certain amount of creativity by limiting players to words beginning with a specific letter and favouring items with specific properties – heavy, light, flat, sharp etc. – it still feels like this approach cripples the main draw of Scribblenauts games.
Fortunately, the Sandbox levels help to plug this gap. This single-player mode is a much more traditional Sribblenauts experience, with a series of small worlds to explore that are populated by NPCs with problems that need solving. Each game world has its own unique environments and challenges to explore, enabling more creativity that you can find in the ‘main’ game. The Sandbox isn’t perfect, with some of the puzzles requiring overly-specific solutions and others remaining obscure even after purchasing a clue to help you along, but there’s a lot of fun to be had there all the same.
None of this is to say that the ‘showdown’ elements of the game are a total loss. While they largely ignore the main mechanic the Scribblenauts games are known for, they have a certain appeal all of their own that is only heightened by the fact that they can be played in couch co-op. Given that a lot of us are spending more time at home than we might otherwise, it’s nice to see a modern game that actively embraces the ability to play alongside one another on the same screen. The games themselves are generally very simple, but there’s enough variety on offer to keep things interesting.
Put together with the charming art style and music that will be familiar to anyone who has played previous Scribblenauts titles, Showdown is a delightful little game to pass the time with a few friends on a rainy afternoon.