‘Scribblenauts’ a fun, original game

It’s remarkable how little you need to hear about some games to get a feeling for how they play.

• Look at “Gangstar: West Coast Hustle.” All I have to say is, it’s a “Grand Theft Auto”-styled game for the iPhone.

Immediately, you understand you play as a gang member. You hijack cars and motorcycles. You undertake missions, such as killing other gang members.

And you read dialogue in the vein of: “Hola, vatos! Good news! Remember some punk stole my boy Lil’ T’s car near the pier? How ’bout you go there and give him a message from us?”

Yes, that’s cliche city. But “Gangstar” is a decent if easy game for the puny iPhone. Just because a game is a copycat doesn’t mean it’s no fun.

• Then there’s “Need for Speed: Shift.” All I have to tell you is, you drive BMWs, Volkswagens and better and worse cars on beautiful tracks around the world.

“Shift” is more intense and entertaining than the last few, weak “Need for Speeds.” And you can race your butt off in online multiplayer games.

• OK, now that you’ve been reminded that games rarely reinvent the wheel, let me tell you about one that does:

“Scribblenauts” is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

You play as a little guy with a blue hat and — when you type the name of an object, that object appears on the screen!

You type “God,” and a white-bearded guy in a robe appears. You type “rhino,” and a rhino appears. Then, God and the rhino will fight to the death!

In one part, I made a pterodactyl and a mosasaurus come to life next to a military tank in a grocery store, merely by typing those words. How crazy-fun is that?

Tens of thousands of objects can be summoned from the database, minus proper names, vulgarities, shapes, alcohol, race, Greek and Latin.

In 220 minigames, you’re placed in a setting, a scene that looks like a painting, and you must solve a puzzle to escape.

My favorite setting is a Halloween scene where kids come trick-or-treating. You can type “candy” or “chocolate” or whatever to summon candy and chocolate to put in their bags.

Or, you can trick them by summoning “ghost” or “devil” or whatever to scare them away. Be warned: The devil will slay the kids, though you’ll escape the minigame.

You must finish each scene a handful of times in a row, without using the same words you’ve used before. I once summoned “shark” to eat the Halloween kids, but I lost that round, because I suppose sharks aren’t Halloween-y.

“Scribblenauts” is new to store shelves, but at this year’s E3 game convention, it was the first portable game ever to win “Best of Show.”

It sticks to my brain like glue. It will spawn copycats and sequels, which means in a few years, I will say of some other game, “it’s a ‘Scribblenauts’-styled game,” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. (“Gangstar: West Coast Hustle” by Gameloft retails for $7 for iPhone — Plays passably entertaining. Looks good for an iPhone game. Easy. Rated “12+” for violence, mild alcohol, tobacco or drug use or references, mild sexual content or nudity, mild language and mild suggestive themes. Two stars out of four.)

(“Need for Speed: Shift” by EA retails for $60 for Xbox and PS 3; $50 for PC; $40 for PSP — Plays fun. Looks incredible. Challenging. Rated “E” for mild violence. Three and one-half stars.)

(“Scribblenauts” by Warner Home Video Games retails for $30 for DS — Plays fascinating and fun. Looks cute. Easy. Rated “E 10+” for cartoon violence and comic mischief. Four stars.)

TOP GAMES

Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to retailer Game Crazy.

1. “Halo 3: ODST” for Xbox 360; rated “M” (blood, language, violence)

2. “Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story” for DS; rated “E” (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)

3. “Madden NFL ’10” for Xbox 360; also available for Wii, PS 3, PS 2, PSP; rated “E”

4. “Wii Sports Resort” for Wii; rated “E”

5. “Need for Speed: Shift” for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3, PSP, PC; rated “E” (mild violence)

6. “Madden NFL ’10” for PS 3

7. “Need for Speed: Shift” for PS 3

8. “Scribblenauts” for DS; rated “E 10+” (cartoon violence, comic mischief)

9. “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2” for Xbox 360; also available for Wii, PS 3, PSP, PS 2, DS; rated “T” (mild language, violence)

10. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up” for Wii; also available for PS 2; rated “E 10+” (cartoon violence, mild suggestive themes)

(Ratings: “E” for “Everyone”; “T” for “Teen”; “M” for “Mature 17+”)

NEW IN STORES

“Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes” (LucasArts) is set in a moment in between seasons one and two of the Cartoon Network series bearing the same title, thus it is gunning for more of a younger, cartoon-happy demographic than many other “Star Wars” games.

This is one of those games where you portray a hero, and there’s a friend at your side, battling along with you. If you’re playing alone, the friend’s actions are controlled by the game. But a real-life friend also can jump in for cooperative-mode blasting and lightsaber-rattling.

Actually, you can play as a Jedi or as a bad guy, including but not limited to Jedi Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka Tano, plus clone trooper characters from Rex to Bly and beyond.

As a Jedi, you use your push Force power a lot, pushing troopers to death, and you can hijack/hack into almost any bad guy in the game and force that character to shoot at other bad guys.

As a trooper, you shoot a lot.

The game retails for $50 for Wii, Xbox 360 and PS 3; $30 for DS, PSP, PC and PS 2. It’s rated “T” for fantasy violence.

“Saw” is a rare thing indeed. It’s a movie-based game (which is not uncommon at all) inspired by a horror movie (yep, that my friends, is quite unlikely).

If you’re aware of the “Saw” horror flicks, this game goes down that bloody, crazy path of making moral decisions such as, do you kill someone to get yourself out of a booby trap?

I have to say, I loved the IGN.com preview, in which the reviewer reminded us that movie-license games are usually disasters, and yet, “Saw” — “It has its issues, but it definitely has a shot at being a good game.”

As a detective, you must escape main traps from the movies plus some new ones, battle underlings of that crazy Jigsaw guy who sets them, avoid little random booby traps, solve puzzles involving corpse-searching, and push buttons at the exact time the game tells you to.

The game retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3. Right, this thing isn’t on the kiddie Wii. It’s rated “M” for blood, gore, drug reference, intense violence and strong language.

“NBA 2K10” is Take Two’s annual pro basketball title. There are some changes.

First, the game taps into live statistics from real basketball players, and I mean really deep statistics, such as the frequency any certain real-life player takes a shot while spinning off of a screen. This has real consequences in the game as to players’ shooting styles and field goal success rates.

Second, if you’re online, the game will constantly download real game scores and such, so you can keep up to date on NBA news and scores while you’re gaming.

Third, you can create a player from scratch and take him through the smaller leagues to try to beef him up for the draft.

The game retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; ($50 for Wii on Oct. 20 release); $30 for PSP and PS 2; ($20 PC on its Tuesday release). It’s rated “E.”

“NBA Live ’10” is EA’s annual pro basketball title. It also has its additions.

The bigger one, to me, is you and nine other people can play online multiplayer team games. Essentially, you can go online, pick whichever pro player you want to be, and so will four other online gamers for your team, and five other gamers for the opposing team. Nice.

The other big add-on is an option for you to play not just a franchise season, but to pick something called Dynamic Season. That’s where you can virtual-play any of the real games of this NBA season and of any team (which isn’t all that strange). But if you miss a team’s scheduled game, then “NBA Live” will fill in the stats with the real numbers — or you can go back in time and play the game yourself.

If you’re online, naturally, “NBA Live” gets updated with real-life statistics and injuries, and such, to keep your teams and players up-to-the-minute fresh or weary.

The game retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $40 for PSP. It’s rated “E.”

— By DOUG ELFMAN

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@review journal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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