|System: Wii U|
|Dev: 5th Cell|
|Pub: Warner Brothers|
|Release: November 19, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief|
by Becky Cunningham
Scribblenauts is a great series for word nerds and people who enjoy freeform sandbox gameplay. The premise is simple: Solve puzzles by conjuring up any item you can think of. Developer 5th Cell has emptied an impressive dictionary full of objects into their games, and creative players have had a good time discovering what kinds of emergent situations they can get into.
The latest addition to the series, Scribblenauts Unlimited, starts with the same basic gameplay as its predecessors. Playing the rooster-hatted Maxwell, players use a magic notepad to type in non-proper nouns that instantly become objects in the game. Objects behave as one would expect, and can be operated or combined together to solve problems in the world. As in the second Scribblenauts game, adjectives can be appended to objects in order to change their appearance or behavior. An aggressive shark can be turned into a “friendly shark” that will allow itself to be used as an underwater mount. Alternately, it can be bypassed by making it a “sleepy shark.”
Scribblenauts Unlimited adds two major changes to the series. Instead of presenting itself as a series of small puzzles, it gives the player a large number of open areas in which there are tons of people, animals, and even objects with requests to be fulfilled. The game presents this as an “open world,” but it really isn't. It's a series of linked areas, most of which need to be unlocked by solving a certain number of puzzles.
More interestingly, the game has a full suite of object editing tools. Players can piece together pieces of various objects to create new ones, determine their creations' behavior patterns, and customize the color and pattern of every object segment. In addition, Maxwell can be replaced by a number of different avatars that the player can collect throughout the game. All these collectable avatars are male, as they're Maxwell's many brothers, but a female-looking character can be created using the avatar creator.
Players will barely need to touch the object editor in order to complete the game, as simply summoning objects and/or adding adjectives to them is enough to solve the simple puzzles that the game presents, but it's a very appealing feature for the kind of creative player who enjoys Scribblenauts in the first place. Players can even share their creations with others online, allowing for “my hideously cute mutant monster can be your hideously cute mutant monster” challenge battles.
This time around, the game has thrown in a bit of a plot to appease those who enjoy shouting, “What's my motivation?” Maxwell has used his magic notebook to pull a mean trick on an old guy, who turns out to be a virulently misogynistic wizard who puts a stoning curse on Maxwell's sister Lily. In order to reverse the curse, Maxwell must collect a ton of starites (the series' resident collectable thingamajig) by helping people and making them happy.
Making people happy, though, works against one of the most fun parts of Scribblenauts—using one's creativity to create jolly mayhem all over the world. Fortunately, that's still easy to do within the game. A panicked orphan can be soothed by summoning a teddy bear, but she'll also give up a piece of starite in return for a jar of tranquilizers. A man who has lost his wife to a tragic accident can be reunited with her by bringing her back to life, or by killing him so that they're both ghosts. Perverse-minded people can rest assured that they are free to unleash their wicked solutions onto the world, and that areas can be reset to their original form (without the loss of any earned starites or starite pieces) in order to try multiple different puzzle solutions.
As always, typing out crazy solutions to the puzzles Scribblenauts presents is the main source of fun in the game. When it works well or when a solution fails in a hilarious manner, it's great fun. I had a good laugh when I accidentally procreated with a carnivorous plant while attempting to get it to bloom. (Protip: use the adjective “fertile” at your own risk.) I also had fun attempting to re-create The Phantom of the Opera without being killed by the phantom I was summoning. It's a shame, then, that many of the puzzles in Scribblenauts Unlimited are so barebones that they can be difficult to solve creatively.
Even the extra bells and whistles that have been thrown into the game can work against the creative solutions being offered up by players. The game sometimes provides animated scenes that show the results of a puzzle, but these are fairly limited in what they can display. Early on, I encountered a boy who needed to hoist a flag outside his school to salute. Using the object editor, I created a lovely rainbow Pride flag, but once I gave it to the boy, it magically turned into a generic-looking flag. In fact, handing him most non-clothing cloth items produced that generic flag. Giving him a pair of boxer shorts and seeing them flying on the pole felt good at first, until I realized that any piece of clothing (including a bra) magically turned into boxer shorts when flown on the pole. The only deviation I could find from those two results was a map, which turned into a pirate flag.