Scribblenauts Unlimited is a puzzle game with a bit of a difference. Rather than asking you to figure out how to use a specific set of items to solve a puzzle, you're actually able to create almost any object you can think of by typing a noun or adjective into lead character Maxwell's magic book. If you can imagine it, then you can create it in the game, and Unlimited (as the name suggests) takes this core concept further than ever before. If you want to conjure up a ridable T-Rex to clear a traffic jam, or a makeshift flying robot to beat back invading zombies, then that (and much more) is entirely possible.
Divided into worlds, each area contains a number of people looking for help. Whether it's a man that's unlucky in love, or a cat stuck up a tree, it's up to you to wrack your brain and work out what object might help resolve the situation.
In a plus for younger children, the puzzles here are mostly on the easy side, and even younger children should be able to shout out a viable answer without too much trouble. However, the interface for using the notebook is a bit on the clunky side, with a few too many menu options on screen for younger players, although older children should have no trouble. On the plus side, controlling Maxwell is straightforward enough, using the analogue stick and buttons, and any child who has some experience with games should be able to make him run and jump around at least. It's a bright, cartoony looking game too, making it visually appealing to younger players.
With such a heavy emphasis on vocabulary, creativity and spelling, Scribblenauts Unlimited is also a game that could really help improve younger players' reading skills. Requiring bucketloads of thought and imagination rather than running and shooting, your child will have to rely on their imagination - and their spelling - to type out and create objects in the game's world. Using the GamePad and stylus to enter words a letter at a time is perfectly suited to little ones who are still learning their letters, and may just sneak some educational value under the radar.
Unfortunately, though, children who can't read will find Scribblenauts Unlimited very hard going, as there's very little spoken dialogue in-game: everything important is displayed only as text on the screen, although a narrator reads the opening story scenes. This means that children who can't yet read on their own won't be able to use the notebook unassisted, as it requires a fairly solid understanding of nouns and adjectives, not to mention not being able to tell what the characters in game what help with. If there was an option to have the text read out loud, we think that children as young as 5 would be able to play without assistance, and enjoy thinking up crazy solutions to the puzzles, especially as the dictionary suggests words if the player's spelling isn't quite perfect. As it is, younger players will almost certainly need someone older on hand to help them along. Similarly the object editor, where players can create their own items to share with other Scribblenauters online is fully featured, but takes time to learn and isn't particularly user-friendly. Lastly, some of the puzzle solutions are rather specific, and some rely on knowledge of historical figures or events that children may not yet be aware of: completing exhibits in the museum stage in particular highlighted this problem. While adults could probably muddle through (or simply look online), children will probably find moments like this to be big obstacles.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is set in a bright, colourful comic-book world that contains little parents should worry about.
The creative nature of the game means that items such as guns, knives and swords, as well as characters like zombies or even terrorists can all be summoned up. Weapons can be used against other characters, but the overall effect is fairly tame - we're not in Call of Duty territory here - and defeated characters simply disappear without any blood or gore. Maxwell can die, although it's fairly rare, and when this happens it's just a case of continuing where you left off, resetting the level to start again or quitting. If you put electronic equipment into water, for example, and then have Maxwell dive in, he won't survive, so it may actually prove useful in helping children understand real world dangers.
It's a game that everyone can play, but given the presence of 'realistic' weaponry and dangerous situations (however cartoony they may be) we don't recommend it for very young children.
Scribblenauts Unlimited also features online connectivity, enabling players to create and download custom characters and items and share them over the internet. While the game won't allow unsuitable or offensive words, it's possible to create more unsavoury items by combining and modifying existing objects. It's worth bearing in mind that content that other people have created could end up available in your game.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U