To cope with a relatively meaningless existence lived in a world of chaos, human beings desire order. It’s the unspoken source of our love for say, the NBA Playoffs, the Miss America pageant, or the Oscars. They each provide a socially approved framework from which we derive a consensus on who or what is No. 1. But what’s been missing for thousands of years of human history has been a way to calculate the answer to perhaps the most important and comprehensive question of them all: Who Is The Strongest Being Of All Time, Real Or Imagined?
Many of the world’s religions, of course, try to assert their god(s) as the ultimate boss of everything. (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” says the Christian God of the Bible. That’s God 1, All Other Gods 0, if you’re keeping score at home.) But these claims always arise in books written by the deities’ own followers, which is pretty convenient. Clashes of titans are also the storyline of every other issue in superhero comics, but those fights usually result in unsatisfying draws. That’s why we need an unbiased adjudicator—the USA Today Division I Coaches Poll for the entire universe.
Enter Scribblenauts Unlimited. It’s advertised as a game in which players can type tens of thousands of nouns and modifying adjectives and watch as their words are brought to life: Type “hippopotamus,” and you get one. The game claims to conjure anything into virtual existence as if by some kind of word genie (incidentally, an Aladdin-like wish-fulfiller appears when you enter that word), and you use this power to solve a series of puzzle-based challenges.
But the game’s true genius isn’t revealed until you ignore the star-obsessed hero, Maxwell, and his pathological need to aid the hapless characters he meets. Instead, for insights into the pecking order of the universe, you must whimsically conjure up an unlimited supply of men, monsters, and mythological beings ranging from (A)nubis to (Z)ombie and watch as they battle each other of their own accord, deathmatch-style.
And so, like Dante diligently cataloging the different levels of hell, I assigned myself the task of observing and documenting the cosmology of Scribblenauts. Here, then, are the results of my investigation—the Unofficial Seven Circles Of Power:
Circle 1: Forest Folk
In the fantastical fiction of genteel British men of the last century, notably J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, primitive creatures of the woodland are strong and brave, but simple—untainted by the ills of modern civilization. It was a way of depicting peoples like Native Americans in the mold of the “noble savage” while also sticking to palatable white faces. Scribblenauts sees through the crypto-racist business. Elves, satyrs, centaurs, and other mythological people can be defeated by ordinary unarmed athletes, martial artists, boxers and, ironically, Indian chiefs. Even a disgruntled mathematician takes out a quarter of a female satyr’s health bar. Granted, brownies are hard to kill, but that’s because their butterfly-like wings let them take sudden flight from danger.
Notable deathmatch: elf vs. dwarf. For fantasy nerds, the question of who would win between these two fabled races is older and more heated than “Did Han shoot first?”. The elves have the definitive upper hand in Scribblenauts, even though they’re represented by fey, unisex creatures wearing green tank tops and a flower nestled in their hair while the dwarves are burly dudes fitted with heavy armor and impressive facial hair. That’s true even when both are equipped with their token weapon of choice—a bow and an axe. Sorry, short guys. Winner: elf.
Circle 2: Human Beings
Stripped of all of the tools and technology of destruction we’ve created over the centuries—from swords to nukes—regular old humanity is relatively weak on the physical front. All we’ve got in our arsenal are these fragile fleshy instruments in the form of fists and feet to inflict blunt force trauma. Some people are undoubtedly more capable than others in the art of fisticuffs, and in the world of Scribblenauts, a lover is easily bested by a fighter, and a boxer trained specifically in the art of inflicting pain tops a physically nimble gymnast. Still, even a Mike Tyson lookalike with bulging biceps cowers in whimpering fear when he’s faced with anyone from the next circle of beings.
Notable deathmatch: Republican vs. Democrat. What better way to stop the paralyzing war of words between our nation’s two political parties than an old-fashioned gridlock-free throwdown? Well, when I typed in “Republican,” a bespectacled, pantsuited Sarah Palin lookalike appeared out of thin air. Entering the word Democrat summons a Barack Obama clone in a suit and tie. (In an interesting bit of accidental political commentary, all of the Republicans are white, and the Democrats are black.) When these two first encounter each other, conversation bubbles containing a pictograph of the White House appear above their heads to indicate they’re perhaps debating the role of government. That’s unrealistically civil, so I used Scribblenauts Unlimited’s much-touted adjective power to make them “angry” or “disgruntled” politicians. When you do this, the Republican murders the Democrat faster than you can say “filibuster.” Perhaps they imbued the Palin clone with the power of a real mama grizzly? Winner: GOP.
Circle 3: Minor Gods And Monsters
Goblins and gremlins were probably scary stuff to wide-eyed children listening to old wives’ tales while huddled around the fireplace—at least, that’s how I perceive Ye Olden Days. These impish monsters are lightweights, however, in the grand scheme of Scribblenauts. So are orcs and ogres, villains ripped from the pages of a Dungeons and Dragons monster compendium. Sasquatch might be treated as a fearsome creature with a chip on his shoulder in the Jack Links commercials, but in Scribblenauts, Bigfoot is all bark and no bite—running in fear at the slightest provocation. Likewise, without a secret curse at his disposal, the mummy is just a lonesome ancient wrapped from head to toe in decaying bandages—not much to worry about.
Thor lacks both his hammer Mjornir and his long flowing blonde locks as depicted by Marvel Comics. In Scribblenauts, the bearded Norse god looks more like a long-lost member of the band Iron And Wine. It’s probably why he flees from most battles—better to run and live another day to write an indie rock ballad. Some of the female mythological creatures, on the other hand, should probably get their own tier. They’re not particularly strong, but they’re wise enough to go after the patriarchy instead of slitting each other’s throats. I conjured up a succubus, a harpy, a siren, and a sphinx; they all ignored each other and tried to gang up on Maxwell instead.
Notable deathmatch: ghost vs. goblin. In theory, it’s an alliterative match made in ’80s video game heaven, but the ghost and goblin in Scribblenauts appear about as fearsome as two kids dressed in homemade Halloween costumes. The translucent ghost suggests a distant cousin to the sheet-wearing ghouls in Pac-Man, and its green-skinned opponent is a slightly more menacing version of a Keebler elf. I half-expected the ghost to have a mobility problem in a fight because of the clumsiness of wearing a white sheet, but it still dispatched the goblin in a head-to-head matchup with more than half of its four hearts left. Winner: ghost.
Circle 4: Monsters Of The Midway
Give the ancient Greeks credit—they knew that no opposing army could resist the allure of a rather large wooden gift horse. Plus, they thought up some wildly creative creatures for their epic poems and stories, even if some feel like the result of Homer playing Mad Libs with random human and animal body parts. Scribblenauts didn’t do the Cyclops any favors—re-imagining Ulysses’ giant foe as a tiny blue-skinned fella with a fauxhawk, easily bested by other beings in this category.
The mighty Minotaur, double the size of the Cyclops and probably relieved that there’s no oppressive maze to hem him in, charges through most opponents like a bull in a shop that hadn’t yet been invented in 200 B.C. Even stronger is the Cerberus, the hellhound of Hades, who appears in the game as a three-headed canine that resembles a pit bull. Speaking of heads, I can’t make heads or tails out of the Colossus, which according to my rough estimation is part statuesque Colossus Of Rhodes, part Colossus of X-Men, and part floor lamp.
Notable deathmatch: shark vs. lion. Of all the real-life animals in the game, only the lion and the shark qualify as mid-tier powers. The King Of The Jungle tops the Beast Of The Deep, but it’s an unfair fight because you can’t host the battle underwater. Typing in the words “ocean,” “lake,” or “pond” only summons common animal species from those bodies of water, and “aquarium” brings a tiny fish tank or a Sea World ripoff to life. And Scribblenauts does not recognize the phrase “Giant Undersea Battle Arena.” But alas, do not weep for the Great White—it still gets a whole special week on the Discovery Channel while the lion is saddled with a maudlin Broadway musical. Winner: push.
Circle 5: The Undead
The zombie isn’t traditionally recognized as an especially powerful monster all by himself. Slow, stupid, and lacking any powers beyond a lethal bite, individual zombies are dispatched with relative ease in popular fiction—it’s only when they gang up that they get you. This game’s strain of the walking dead, however, has the overpowering ability to turn anything into a zombie instantly by contact. Add this to the fact that Scribblenauts fights favor melee attacks, and you have one of the more fearsome forces in the game. Meanwhile, the vampire (here in both male and female varieties) can’t transform into a bat or suck blood, but it does have a lethal left hook. That helps the vampire triumph over the Norse creation-myth god Ymir, represented here as blue-skinned giant who emits a constant flow of ice chunks from his head. In fact, the vampire is nigh-unbeatable: Not even an archangel or Satan can stop Count Dracula.
Notable deathmatch: vampire vs. slime monster. It’s easy to see why the slime monster is underrated. It’s a slow, autonomous mound of snot that creeps up on you. Whereas other classic matinee monsters like the werewolf and the vampire have suddenly become prime leading-man material in teen dramas, it’s hard to imagine the ’50s movie The Blob remade today with a mopey, teenage girl (played by Selena Gomez) who falls for a hunky amorphous slime monster (voiced by Zac Efron). But consider that a plasma-state being would be extremely difficult to defeat in a fight, especially without a freeze ray handy. Scribblenauts wisely acknowledges this. as its slime creature narrowly edges out Hollywood’s “it” monster in hand-to-jelly combat. Winner: slime monster.
Circle 6: Giant Beasts
Sometimes size really does matter. I constructed a murderer’s row of beefed-up creatures for this category, most of whom coincidentally live in the ocean and have serpentine-like physical features: Hydra, Leviathan, kraken, dragon. (It’s too bad that Godzilla is trademarked—otherwise, he’s a shoo-in.) With its octopus-like head, malformed wings, and humanoid arms and legs, H.P. Lovecraft’s hideous creation Cthulhu lies somewhere between the Kraken, a dragon, and a really tall dude—but the human part must be its downfall because it can’t hang in a fight with the other aforementioned monsters.
Notable deathmatch: kraken vs. Leviathan. They say never to bring a knife to a gun fight, the idea being that sometimes it’s good to bear arms if everyone else is bearing them, too. That’s also true in the battle between these two behemoths—someone should have told the sea serpent Leviathan not to bring zero arms to a fight with a creature that has eight of them. Winner: kraken.
Circle 7: Stone Cold
Friedrich Nietzsche is known for saying “God is dead,” but most people leave out the rest of the quote, which is “if He doesn’t bring a hand mirror to a fight against Medusa.” The most powerful beings in the Scribblenauts universe are Medusa and the basilisk. They’re both mythological monsters who can turn others into stone just by looking at them—and that includes God and Death. We’re used to living in a modern world that institutes checks and balance systems to keep any single entity from gaining too much dominance, but in the upper reaches of the Scribblenauts cosmos, there is no paper, rock, and scissors—only rock. God save us all. Or, in His absence, someone who has a mirror on hand.