Scribblenauts Unlimited Review

Dictionary corner

Scribblenauts Unlimited Review
3rd February, 2014 By Will James
Game Info // Scribblenauts Unlimited
Scribblenauts Unlimited Boxart
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Developer: 5th Cell
Players (same console): 1 - 2
Subtitles: Full
Available On: Wii U
Genre: Puzzle (Word and Number)

Despite being initially announced as a Wii U launch title (and indeed, launching alongside the system in the US), it's taken Scribblenauts Unlimited the best part of a year to hit shop shelves in UK. With an unexplained delay pushing the game back (rumours suggested it was some sort of localising error), it couldn't have happened at a worse time for Nintendo, as not only did it create a massive hole in the Wii U's fairly sparse launch line-up - it also meant we had to wait a full 12 months before finally getting our hands on one of our most hotly anticipated games. But now, a year later, and with whatever mysterious glitch caused the delay having finally been resolved, we've finally been able to delve back in to the lexicon testing, creative-puzzle-solving world of Scribblenauts.

Much like the earlier games in the series, Unlimited sees you take control of young, chicken hat wearing doodler Maxwell, and his magical sketchbook, which can create any object he chooses to write in it. In a bit of a twist, rather than just solving a load of unconnected puzzles, this time Maxwell's on a quest to bring happiness to the world in order to free his sister from a terrible curse. See, Maxwell's penchant for pranks misfires when he tries to give a rotten apple to a hungry passer-by. Rather unfairly, the passer by seeks revenge by casting a spell on Maxwell's sister Lily, who is cursed to turn to stone. In order to bring her back, Maxwell has to brush up on his 'good Samaritan' act by bringing happiness to everyone he encounters and earning shiny Starites. It's a cute setup, but the story takes a back seat once you're in to the game proper, and the puzzles start coming.

Imagination is at the core of Scribblenauts Unlimited, and it's a testament to the designers that the game's dictionary comes very close to living up to its name. If you can imagine it, there's a good chance that Unlimited will oblige and present you with a cute, cartoony representation of whatever you can think up. Developer 5th Cell has slowly been improving the Scribblenauts experience over the years, and it's fair to say that Unlimited represents the pinnacle of that experience. It's not perfect though, and a few annoyances mean that it's not the unbridled creative explosion you may be expecting.

Looking for all the world like a 2D platformer, Scribblenauts is actually more concerned with puzzle solving than it is precision jumps. It's almost like an interactive puzzle book, with loads of conundrums that rely on imagination to conquer, and over the course of the adventure you'll be presented with loads of opportunities to come up with imaginative solutions to various problems. You might encounter a broken-down vehicle that needs fixing up, a guy who needs help planning the perfect date or a dog who dreams of joining the fire service, and it's your job to create solutions to these problems using the notebook, in exchange for a shiny Starite. All you have to do is type in a noun, (or an adjective if you want to change the properties of an existing object) using the GamePad and, assuming it's included in the game's extensive dictionary, it will spring to life before your very eyes. If you've never played a previous Scribblenauts adventure, there's a real buzz to be had the first time you create an obscure object in Unlimited after racking your brain, and great fun can be had in simply trying to find an object the game doesn't expect.

Taking a more free-form approach to the previous games, Unlimited is split into several distinct areas across a sizeable map, each with their own set of challenges. Access to new zones is granted once you've achieved a certain number of Starites, and paid a visit to Maxwell's (literally) petrified sister back at the family farm. Collecting Starites is fairly straightforward, and it's usually apparent what you need to create to solve each problem, but the fun lies in coming up with unusual solutions to everyday situations. You could easily skip through the game using fairly mundane or obvious items, but why not summon up a T-Rex to clear that traffic jam or employ a superhero to rescue that stuck cat rather than use a ladder?

Upon entering a new area, there'll be several characters milling around, and some will represent puzzles waiting to be solved and Starites to collect. Handily, you can switch to a scanning mode, similar to the 'Detective Vision' mode in recent Batman games that'll highlight anything important - characters with missions glow in yellow, so it's easy to see where to head next. Once you've selected someone in need of help, their request pops up on the screen and then it's over to you. You might have to create a new object from scratch, combine objects together, or perhaps modify an existing item but ultimately the challenge remains the same: interpret the character's request for help in the most inventive way you can. We'd have liked to see some additional incentive for being as creative as possible, but sadly it doesn't matter whether you use the most inventive solution ever or the most obvious, as long as it meets the requirements of the mission your Starite reward remains the same.

And therein lies the game's biggest problem. While it's certainly fun at first to try and 'trick' the game and discover the limits of its dictionary, that fun soon fades when you realise the only thing that's pushing you to be creative is... you. It's an enjoyable game without a doubt, it's just that it never really seems to force you to move outside a comfort zone of handy, almost Swiss army knife like items that can solve almost any challenge. With puzzles that are rudimentary at best, once the novelty's worn off, the game almost feels like a bit of a chore to work through.

Another minor irritation we had with the game involved the GamePad. While it's not the most graphically impressive game out there, Scribblenauts Unlimited does have a bold and distinctive 'colouring book' style that looks really nice on an HD TV. It's unfortunate that, as so much of the interaction uses the GamePad screen (which displays the same image as the TV for the most part) the TV almost gets ignored. We found ourselves playing Scribblenauts Unlimited almost like a handheld game, using the GamePad for the majority of the time, only occasionally thinking to look up at the TV. It's a problem with the Wii U's dual screen setup admittedly, but we found shifting our attention between screens particularly jarring with Scribblenauts Unlimited. Of course, you could argue that the game is ideal for Off-TV Play, and there's a certain appeal to playing Scribblenauts Unlimited purely on the GamePad. If you do use the TV, Wii Remote-toting extra players can take control of objects on the screen and try to help (or hinder) Maxwell, in a fun, but hardly revolutionary take on multiplayer, that's a nice addition nonetheless.

Aside from the core game there are a few extras thrown in too. The object editor is an in-depth and fully featured means to create custom characters and objects that can be saved and used in the main game as well as shared online. While this is fun, and enables dedicated players to create their own content, it's presented in quite an off-puttingly intimidating way. A selection of Nintendo characters are included in Unlimited too, so if you fancy roping Link or Mario (among others) in to help that's entirely possible. It's a cute inclusion for Nintendo fans, but, like the rest of the game, the novelty of familiar faces soon wears off.

Scribblenauts Unlimited is, ultimately, limited not by the player's imagination so much of its lack of vision. While it promises (and delivers, for the most part) countless possibilities, it presents them in such a pedestrian way as to make the whole thing feel rather lifeless. As an exercise in squeezing as many options as possible in to the game to be utilised by the player, it's a success, and it's true that you'll get out of it what you put in, but as a game that's fun to play, it's less of a winner. Enjoyable and exciting game to begin with, largely due to the excitement of possibilities, but the game's simple puzzles and gentle pace mean that ultimately it's not as fun and creative as it seems.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U

StarStarStarEmpty starEmpty star
Scribblenauts? Fun(limited)
  • +
    Huge, if not 'Unlimited' dictionary
  • +
    Extensive amount of content
  • +
    Charming graphical style
  • -
    Doesn't push you enough
  • -
    Awkward interface
  • -
    More of the same (and easier) for series veterans
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