Scribblenauts always struck me as a game too clever by half. Sure, it had some interesting new ideas, a great premise and a loveable art style, but poor implementation and mechanics that didn’t feel fully formed dragged the whole package down. Developers 5th Cell may have just changed all that with Scribblenauts Unlimited – gaming’s greatest psychotic Litmus test.
For the uninitiated, Scribblenauts is all about putting the power of creation squarely in your hands. You’ve got a magic notebook that can create just about anything you write into it and a big wide world of unhappy people in need of a little excitement. Will you be Scribble Gandhi and brighten everybody’s day by summoning pandas and rainbows? Or will your new found sense of power corrupt your already tarnished soul and turn you into Scribble Hitler? How you choose to interact with the world is completely up to you and, at the risk of sounding like a made for TV after school special, your imagination is the only limiting factor.
The setup is similar to past games, but contains a bit of a narrative twist. Maxwell, the loveable player-controlled scamp from the original game, has become a bit of a prankster. One day he happens across an old man who asks for something to eat. Mischievously, Maxwell conjures up a rotten apple and laughs as the old man splutters about vomiting it up. Wouldn’t-you-know-it the old man is actually a wizard and casts a spell on Maxwell’s sister that slowly turns her to stone. Luckily, Maxwell’s older brother has a solution, Starites. Born of good deeds, these little items have the power to reverse magic spells. So Maxwell straps on his signature rooster hat and sets off for adventure.
The general flow of gameplay has you traversing through a varied open world and interacting with characters, animals and objects in need. Every few steps you’ll bump into something or someone needing a bit of help. A brief chat gives you an overview of the situation and you’re left to fill in the blanks. All it takes is a quick play session to realise that the fun of Scribblenauts Unlimited doesn’t come from simply solving the game’s puzzles outright. It’s about coming up with weird, wonderful and unexpected ways to get the job done.
Nine out of ten times, I was genuinely surprised that my zany solution actually worked and that makes for some extremely satisfying gameplay. Where’s the fun in using something as stock-standard as a jetpack to save a cat stuck up a tree when you can summon a flying wizard elephant to ferry your feline friend down in style. Or when a passer by asks you to make him a cuddly little friend, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? A break dancing bear, of course!
Within reason, anything is possible and as long as you don’t mind keeping it PG13 (summoning a talking black dildo just doesn’t work – I ended up with a dodo and it’s just not the same) you can have yourself a lot of cheeky fun. Puzzle difficulty steadily increases, though it never becomes brain straining, and you’ll visit some varied locales throughout your quest. I played my copy of Scribblenauts Unlimited on the Nintendo 3DS and was generally impressed by its overall presentation. The cardboard cut-out art style, while simplistic, is endearing and the soundtrack had me bobbing in place.
On the functionality front, the game proper takes place on the lower screen while the top keeps track of your Starites and level progress. Simply tapping your stylus on townsfolk/animals/objects in need brings up the particulars of their situation and, from there, you tap out the object and drag it on screen.
One of the only negatives to the title that I could find is the lack of custom designs. Scribblenauts Unlimited is available on both the Wii U and PC, in addition to the 3DS, and all copies, bar the handheld, have shipped with an object editor. For those not in the know, the editor allows for the creation of up to 900 custom designs which can be dropped into the campaign. It’s a little disappointing 3DS players miss out on the feature, but it doesn’t take anything away from the main game. It’s a bit gimmicky and it leaves most, if not all, of the fun potential squarely in your hands, but damn, Scribblenauts Unlimited is an enjoyable little ride.
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