Blame the core gamers? Says 5th Cell Creative Director Jeremiah Slaczka:
“We haven’t gotten any emails from casual users that are like, ‘Hey, I don’t like the controls.’ It’s the hardcore users that are like, ‘I play Mario all of the time, and I’m a hardcore gamer, and I’m used to these kinds of controls, and what’s what I want. Maxwell’s actually an AI. So it wasn’t just like throw the D-pad controls in. You’d have to overwrite all of the code that we’d built up for him. So in the second one, we basically did that. This isn’t a platforming game. This is a puzzle game. Unfortunately, it has a platforming-type feel to it. So we said for the second one, that’s fine, we’ll address it, we’ll give you both. And we actually fixed up the stylus controls, too, so Maxwell doesn’t run away as you tap — when you let go he stops. So we made it way better.”
I can see what he’s saying, but I’m going to disagree with him just a little bit. It’s not that core gamers expected better controls, and casual gamers were content. Core gamers are merely more likely to track down the makers of a game and berate them mercilessly until they get what they want. I think most gamers, casual or core, have played Super Mario Brothers and felt a level of familiarity with Scribblenaut‘s platform-like setup. By chalking it up to core gamer preference, they risk overlooking the reality that the controls were conflicting no matter what your skill or interest level in other games. Picking up or dropping items often got mixed up with selecting Maxwell and trying to move him forward, which got frustrating. He acted downright suicidal at times.
Ah well, at the end of the day, the controls are now switchable and easily tailored to whatever gameplay suits your best, so moot point, right?