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Playing God: Stuck in limbo with just a handheld and a clue 

Stuck in limbo with just a handheld and a clue.

Problem: A prisoner, a bully and a lawyer are all in hell - represented in Scribblenauts as an island of dull grey brick floating in flaming lava. Above them hovers heaven - a red-carpeted platform topped with pillars, parapets and a golden castle with an angel hovering overhead. Without changing their lifestyles, I must save the bad guys.

Solution: I decide to try building a stairway to heaven. I open Scribblenauts' virtual keyboard and type "STAIRWAY." Immediately a small brown wooden staircase appears on the screen. I slide it next to the prisoner and he floats upwards through the air, landing in heaven, followed by the bully and the lawyer.

Alternate Solution: Three clicks on the virtual keyboard - "GOD" - and a white-robed man with fluffy hair and some seriously thick eyebrows is standing amongst the damned. With only a nod of his head, he sends the three hapless hellions gliding heavenward, where they convene on the red carpet.

Failed Solution: Pegasus, perhaps due to his pagan origins, has trouble in Christian mythology. Hoping to ferry the sinners to heaven on the winged horse, I type "PEGASUS" and hop on his back. Together we descend to the platform of hell where I touch the bully on the head. Instead of hopping aboard, he starts battling with Pegasus. I fall from the horse's back as, hooves flashing and arms flailing, the steed and the sinner tumble into the fires of hell.

Bad Idea: After that disastrous attempt to mix religious symbolism, I turn to the American author H.P. Lovecraft. I type in "CTHULHU," the name of one of the elder gods of the cosmos - a being so alien and unnatural that his name, like "Jehovah," is merely an approximation. Nevertheless, he was in the Scribblenauts database. A giant green monster with wings sprouting from his back and tentacles oozing from his mouth fills the screen. I set him upon the parapets of heaven where he mercilessly slaughters the angel.

THE GOOD: The puzzles in Scribble-nauts are solved by writing the words for objects that could solve the puzzles. This is an ingenious idea, and the game is loaded with a dictionary's worth of nouns. Aside from the obvious utility items such as ladders, bazookas, fires and "everything," it's possible to invoke a "fool" (but not a "charlatan"), conjure up an "abacus" (but not a "tenkey"), and enjoy some "matzoh" and a "brisket." ("Hamantashen" and "ruggelach" are absent in a woeful deflavorization of Jewish cuisine.)

THE BAD: Most of Scribblenauts' dozens of puzzles are typical videogame affairs - navigate a treacherous path, kill obstructing enemies and flip the correct switches - that simply require a gun and a pair of wings. Added to this unimaginative slew of puzzles is the game's lack of logic. The words often fail, in any meaningful way, to get along. Good luck getting "jumper cables" to conduct any current. A "dogcatcher" is no use in sneaking past a vicious Rottweiler. A bird (either "meadowlark," "hoopoe" or "rooster") can be killed by a single bee. And wasps overturn backhoes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Plenty of nouns but not enough verbs make Scribblenauts an interesting but ultimately frustrating experiment in the power of wordsmithery.


Rated Everyone 10+; Nintendo DS

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