So Many Superheroes, So Little To Do.
Instead of a generic adventure, this time around, developer 5th Cell opted to dive into the licensing arena thanks to its publisher, Warner Bros. Interactive Studios. The result, Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure , is a marriage between the creative freedom of the Scribblenauts series and the epic struggles in the DC Universe. It is absolutely bursting with DC lore, and it’s a must have for any comic book aficionado. However, the overall gameplay ends up being more than a little flat, with a dull canvas for your imagination and a difficulty level beyond remedial.
The story begins rather innocently, with our hero Maxwell and his twin sister Lily enjoying pretend time, regaling each other in some classic comic book moments and bantering over which superhero is the greatest one of all. Of course, the argument doesn’t end there, as our sibling protagonists are no ordinary children. Maxwell can conjure anything simply by writing it in his magical notebook, and Lily’s globe has the power to transport them anywhere they’d like. Then, in a moment of brilliance, Maxwell writes “Gotham City,” rips the page from his notebook, and presses it against the globe, which transports the two to Batman’s urban playground. Yet a peaceful visit is out of the question, as an evil presence not only threatens the home of the Caped Crusader, but the entire DC Universe. Somehow, after transporting to fictional world, a sinister doppelganger of Maxwell has teamed up with the supervillains. Like Maxwell and his Justice League allies, Doppelganger and his evil crew are searching for Starites, which were spread across the universe after Lily plummeted into Gotham and her globe broke apart. To make matters worse, the twins cannot return home until the Starites are recovered and the globe repaired.
In order to find the Starites, Maxwell will travel to the locations of other resident superheroes such as Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, and a few others. To progress in the story and unlock new areas, Maxwell must aid citizens and superheroes with the help of his notebook. Solving the missions grants you either Gotham, Metropolis, or Oa reputation points, which are the currencies used to unlock new stages and continue with the campaign.
After recovering the Starite from a particular level, you can return whenever you please to find a new set of random missions waiting for you. Some require a little bit of thought, but most have fairly simple solutions. For example, one distraught musician wanted to form a band, so typing “drummer” into the notebook instantly created the band member, and I racked up easy reputation. The arbitrary placement of quests sometimes makes it even easier, as you may often have missions completed without even doing anything simply by having random objects and random characters placed in a situation that causes the objectives to complete themselves. To add a bit of a challenge, Mxyzptlk will introduce himself early in the game and offer a reputation multiplier at certain times if you can solve the riddles under his parameters, such as not creating weapons or solving a puzzle without flying.
Not only can you create nearly every superhero or villain from the DC Universe as well as every piece of their gear, but you can also add adjectives to every character and item to solve the puzzles, such as writing “sleeping” on an enemy to render them incapacitated or “warm” on an ice barrier to melt it away. You can also beef up yourself and allies to make battling enemies easier, but the combat in general is by far the game’s weakest element.
With an incredible arsenal of superheroes and all their powers at your disposal, it’s a real shame that combat is limited to a single button press with a random power emerging. The exchange of blows is a simple back and forth until one person’s health drops to zero. The controls don’t help either, as Maxwell moves fairly slowly, and must constantly turn himself back and forth to keep the villain in front of him in order to land a hit. You can create weapons and bolster them with adjectives to make combat easier, but the game penalizes you for reusing the same words, so only one “big gun” is allowed per level. You can get creative with how you tackle taking down enemies, but with little satisfaction and only a reputation reward if dispatching them is part of a mission, it becomes a tedious affair throughout the entire campaign.
Another thing that can be unlocked using reputation points are origin stories for six of the main superheroes. My excitement for these alternative storylines was quickly dashed when I found out they were simply snippets of the particular hero’s key moments from their past, which you help along with nouns and adjectives. Each origin story can be completed in less than two minutes. They’re not really much value for the reputation points required to unlock them.
Reputation can also be used to purchase costumes. These are more than mere superficial makeovers, though, as they grant you many abilities of the respective superhero. It actually ends up lightening the already relaxed difficulty. I mean, why run around Metropolis on foot when for a mere couple hundred reputation points you can don Superman’s tights, granting you the ability to fly, use heat vision, frost breath, and super strength, with increased health, damage, and speed.
One thing that 5th Cell did incredibly well with Scribblenauts Unmasked is pay tribute to the source material. You can easily spend hours on the Batcomputer (essentially the game’s Wikipedia) and find even the most obscure DC characters. From Abyssma to Zum, you’ll have a hard time trying to stump the system with your comic book chops. And though the graphics are simple in design, each character is given an accurate replication in the game. Even multiple versions of a particular individual are customized appropriately. There are over thirty different Batmans to choose from!
If you’d rather piece together your own superhero, that can easily be done at the Bat Cave by talking to Alfred. Any character with any object and tons of customizable physics can be created. Superpowers, however, must be unlocked using reputation points. These creations can then be uploaded and shared online, but sadly, this is the only multiplayer feature of the game.
Overall, Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure does exactly what you’d expect from the merger. Your creativity is near boundless, and the comic book backdrop gives the game a cinematic quality. Unfortunately, none of your creations can be put to worthwhile use when the mission challenges take only a minute or less to complete. The stages themselves aren’t large or interactive enough to allow your handiwork to shine. It’s a cute interpretation with the most DC lore I’ve seen in a game, but the gameplay is just lacking in too many respects to keep you interested.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
It’s a simple and colorful art style, but with well executed personalized touches for each superhero and villain. I wish there were more of each stage to enjoy. 3.1 Control
Combat is too simple and movement is clumsy. Navigating the menus, however, is quick and easy. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Each stage incorporate a score that mimics its big screen soundtracks. They are epic orchestrations, but far too short. There is also no voice acting apart from the opening narration. 2.7 Play Value
The campaign is over too quickly thanks to a watered-down difficulty, and the game doesn’t allow your imagination to flourish. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best