5th Cell’s Scribblenauts found its way onto the Nintendo DS back in 2009 to much hype and positive critical attention. The ability to type in the name of practically any object and see it appear on screen made for a game that thrived on the player’s ability to have fun with their creativity in order to solve the game’s many puzzles.
After a sequel (Super Scribblenauts) and an iOS version (Scribblenauts Remix), the series has made its full-fledged console debut in the form of Scribblenauts Unlimited. However in this bigger, brighter version, it’s all too clear that the series’ familiar issues still exist.
Unlimited is the first Scribblenauts title to contain a story, but unfortunately the narrative is only paid lip service via videos at the beginning and end of the game. The introduction video tells us how Maxwell was given his trademark magic notebook from his parents, before being sent off into the world with his sister Lily.
After playing a trick on an old man they meet on their travels, Lily is cursed to turn to stone. It transpires that Maxwell can save her by obtaining Starites, items created by helping others with their problems.
Outside of these intro and outro sequences, there is no such narrative whatsoever – actually a bonus as these sequences are often vomit-inducing in their sickly-sweetness.
The Scribblenauts art-style remains unchanged from it’s previous incarnations, only now it’s presented in full High Definition loveliness. It’s easily the best looking Scribblenauts yet, with the thickly drawn lines and bright colours looking great on both the television and Wii U GamePad. It’s a child’s colouring book brought to life and it’s all the better for it.
Most developers would have tried to make this version 2.5D with polygonal models, but 5th Cell have to be praised for sticking with the playful visuals of the previous games. This new version allows the player to spawn up to 60 items on screen – six times what the Nintendo DS version could manage.
It’s worth mentioning that some of Nintendo’s iconic characters have been added, such as Mario, Link and Yoshi. These characters have been redrawn in a style fitting with Scribblenauts, and are a nice little extra.
While the graphics are fine as they were in previous Scribblenauts games, the audio could have done with some sprucing up. The same jingles from previous games appear once more, and there’s plenty of Bill & Ben-style gobbeldygook speech to give a little personality to some of the characters you see on your quest. To summarise: Unlimited’s audio is functional, but unmemorable.
As per the previous games, once again you must use Maxwell’s magic notebook to spawn practically anything you want, in order to solve a variety of puzzles. However this time around, the puzzles have been dumbed down considerably, with all of the missions reduced to giving someone an item they need. Performing one of these tasks will earn you a Starite, of which only 60 out of 106 are required to save Lily from becoming a statue. Each of the game’s many environments is accessible via a new World Map that can be accessed at any point, with new levels unlocked for every ten Starites received.
While Scribblenauts Unlimited promises to harness the player’s creativity, as you go through the game’s constant repetition of identikit missions you’ll soon find that you’ll be spawning the same few items every time because the game’s missions don’t do enough to encourage you to try new things. Throughout my playthrough of the game I must have used “meat” to solve a fair chunk of the game’s problems (although I’ll chalk that up to art imitating life).
But despite the game’s endless repetition, as a sandbox it is unparalleled. You can have more fun here than almost anywhere else, simply spawning whatever random things pop into your head. You too can create yourself a Giant Angry Pug or a Tiny Red Bazooka for the amusement of yourself and others. It just so happens that the Wii U Gamepad makes typing in items easier than ever; so easy in fact, that you’ll find yourself focusing on the GamePad screen more than the television screen. It’s too disorientating to flick your vision between the two, so unless you’re playing in the presence of a captive audience, you’ll probably switch the television off.
Scribblenauts Unlimited does have some limited multiplayer functionality, but it’s not particularly enjoyable. It’s possible to spawn characters and have other players directly control them by using a Wii Remote to point at them on screen, and press A. But due to the nature of the game’s missions, there is no point in doing so as these “Sidekicks” won’t be able to do anything meaningful. Once again this is a feature that is best enjoyed when using the game as a sandbox.
Players also have the ability to create items using the game’s powerful Object Editor, and share them with the world via an area called Punctuation Plaza. You can create your own store and customise it to your liking, and fill it with all the ridiculous items you’ve created. Once again, the Object Editor is a surprisingly complex and powerful tool for making things, but there is simply no requirement to use it – although it is fun to see what others have made.
60 Starites are all that’s required to finish the game, and you can expect to collect them in around 6-8 hours of gameplay. There’s a couple of extra hours of enjoyment to be had with sandboxing around, but this isn’t a game that’s going to keep your attention for long, and you may tire of the single player mode well before the end.
VERDICT: We’re looking at the best Scribblenauts so far, but 5th Cell has done nothing to solve the issues that plagued the other games, in particular the lack of direction where missions are concerned. As it stands it’s just a nice toy that will bring amusement to many, instead of being an absolutely great game. Once again, it’s a missed opportunity.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review copy provided by publisher.