Perhaps surprisingly, Scribblenauts Showdown is the first title in the series to make its way to PlayStation. In a way, this is great news; Scribblenauts is a fun, creative franchise that encourages imaginative thinking, and it's always good to have more kid-friendly games on PlayStation 4. However, while Showdown retains the charm, presentation, and playfulness of previous games, its move from puzzles to party games doesn't quite go as well as we'd hoped.
Historically, the Scribblenauts games have a level-by-level structure, each presenting you with a unique scenario in which you must retrieve a Starite. To help Maxwell do this, you'll need to use his magical notepad that can conjure whatever is written on its pages. For example, a Starite could be stuck atop a tree. You could cut the tree down with an axe or a chainsaw, you could climb the tree with a ladder, or maybe you could give Maxwell wings and simply fly to the treetop. Previous games rewarded you for replaying levels with new, creative solutions, encouraging you to apply your imagination in a huge variety of ways.
Scribblenauts Showdown still has elements of this, but it's not as engaging a game as its predecessors due to the aforementioned shift in focus. The game is comprised predominantly of minigames, which you can either play in Versus mode -- a sort of quick play option -- or the titular Showdown. In this board game-like mode, up to four players are dealt randomised cards. The majority of these will initiate a mini game of some kind, with the winner moving forward the number of spaces shown on the card. There are also some cards that will instantly aid you without going through a mini game, as well as some that, if you succeed, will send players back, or let you steal a card from an opponent's hand.
It's ultimately quite a straightforward game, but it can take a while to get through, depending on the number of minigames you trigger and how much dirty play you and your competitors engage in. Cards that randomly swap all players, or average out everyone's positions to level the playing field, can totally change the outcome, right down to the final few minutes.
The minigames themselves are the headline act, though, and as you might expect, they're hit and miss. Wordy games task you with creating something that you think will help you win, and if you can match a given category or starting letter, you'll get a bonus. A good example is Super Sprint, which is a hurdles race that has you and another player riding your chosen item to the finish line. Once a starting letter is selected, you'll want to think of something speedy to increase your chances. Say the starting letter is 'C'; obviously, you're better off astride a cheetah than a cheese grater. By contrast, Speedy games take the emphasis off your vocabulary and instead are more basic, "Be the first to do X" style contests.
Controls are probably the biggest problem facing the minigames and Scribblenauts Showdown altogether. While all of the control schemes for the individual games are very simple, it can feel imprecise, and there is a looseness to everything that can trip you up in some instances. Drone Drop uses motion controls to angle your helicopter, but it's awkward and needlessly difficult. Motion controls feature surprisingly heavily, and they're mostly harmless, but in some cases are poorly implemented. Arguably the main offender in terms of control, however, is the act of typing. The alphabet is divided into several circles, and you highlight them with the left stick. Once you've highlighted the right circle, the four letters are then attributed to the face buttons. It makes sense after a while, but even when you understand it, it's incredibly fiddly.
The range of minigames is quite generous, so you're unlikely to see everything until you've played through Showdown a few times. The problem is that all of them are very throwaway, although they'll definitely provide some entertainment initially. If you do grow tired of Showdown or Versus, there is also a Sandbox mode that offers a more open space in which you can create, well, whatever you like. The Sandbox maps all feature some hidden Starites, which are re-purposed in Scribblenauts Showdown as currency for unlockables, but the main draw is simply the ability to conjure up the most bizarre creations you can think of from the ridiculous number of nouns and adjectives at your disposal. Unfortunately, once you collect the Starites and exhaust your imagination, Sandbox mode doesn't have any legs either.
Scribblenauts Showdown is an agreeable party game that applies the playful vocabulary-stretching gameplay well enough to entertain you and some friends for a while. Unfortunately, the numerous minigames are all pretty shallow, the Showdown mode can grow tiresome, and the appeal of the Sandbox levels only lasts for so long. This will certainly make for an amusing evening with family and friends, but it's not likely to be a title you'll come back to more than a couple of times.