When the first Scribblenauts title launched in 2009, it caused a stir in the gaming industry as it was unlike anything else on the market. The premise of the game was simple – the gamer was presented with a series of short levels, each of which are made up of relatively straightforward puzzles. The twist was that in order to solve those puzzles, you couldn’t just use items you found in-game, you had to create them yourself. Armed with your Nintendo DS stylus and a notepad in-game, you could write the name of an object which would then be created for you to use on-screen.
For instance, there might be a cat stuck up a tree – but how do you get it down? You could write the word “ladder”, and a ladder would appear for you to climb and save the cat. Or you might prefer to write “axe”, and cut down the tree. Further still, a jetpack would help you reach the cat even quicker. There were huge possibilities, although the game could only understand fairly simple objects and names. The concept evolved with Super Scribblenauts and a later Remix version, which added many more words to the in-game library, as well as the ability to add tags and adjectives to the words. Now you could use your stylus to create a blue house, or an angry Emu, for example.
Strangely, for the latest game in the series, Scribblenauts Unlimited, the Nintendo 3DS has been pushed away a little and the Wii U has been made the lead platform. Presumably to make use of the greater power and potential for making a massive database of words, as well as the fact that the Wii U Gamepad now acts in the same way as a 3DS in many ways. Unlimited has broken down the walls from previous titles: no longer do you tackle levels in an ordered, regimented way – now the game is almost an open world (admittedly with some areas only being unlocked as you collect more Starite). This feature is present across all versions of Scribblenauts Unlimited and does improve the game greatly.
Although, it does tend to eliminate a degree of challenge from the game: where you would previously have to beat progressively harder levels to get to the next, now it is more dependant on how you prefers to play. This provides a nice level of freedom, which also allows the game to be played quite casually – where you can dip in and out of areas and levels for as long or as short a time as you please – which is perfectly suited to a handheld machine. The puzzles may also be a little less difficult and have less urgency about them, which can make it feel at times that the game is skewing a little younger than before – but there is still a layer of comedy running through it that will keep adults amused too.
The use of 3D in the handheld version is minimal. The title screens and cutscenes are all presented in three dimensions, allowing for some quite impressive depth in the cinematic sequences, but these are all flat images with no movement, so they still aren’t all that dynamic. The 3D isn’t used at all in the actual gameplay, which leads you to believe that the game could have simply been released as a DS cartridge, rather than a 3DS one. A bit of a missed opportunity there, although it is negligible how much it would have really added to a game that works very well in 2D.
Speaking of looks, the game is still charming no matter which machine you play it on. The visuals are very similar across all formats (though a little crisper on Wii U and PC, of course) because the sprites are simple, bold and colourful. This means that they work equally well on any system, and can be scaled easily. This does create a uniform look for the series, and anyone who has played a previous entry will recognise characters and returning popular objects from other games. Sounds, too, are simple, and all of the characters in the game speak in a Sim-like gibberish, so this also translates well cross-platform. Whatever you play Scribblenauts Unlimited on, it will look cute and fun, and will sound jolly and upbeat.
The main differences between the versions on offer is that the Wii U and PC versions allow gamers to use a new object editor, which really expands the customisation options and freedom in the game no end. This feature allows users to change colours/textures for an item, add and attach different objects together, and change the size and shape of things. In theory, it allows you to build your own items, environments and characters, buy layering different items together. Players have already begun to take this idea and run with it, and many licensed characters who are obviously not allowed to be included in the game have been built – in quite some detail. A fully realised Arkham Asylum, filled with Goons and Batman himself is a fantastic example of what is achievable with the editor. Unfortunately, whereas this is probably the greatest step forward in the new game, the Nintendo 3DS version of the title doesn’t feature this at all, due to memory constraints and the additional power afforded by the Wii U and PC.
One great feature on both Wii U and 3DS is the inclusion of popular Nintendo objects and characters in the in-game dictionary. Originally, the 3DS version was developed initially as the lead release, and as such these characters were only available on Wii U. Thanks to the extended delay, however, licensed characters such as Mario and Zelda – as well as objects such as Fire Flowers and Mushrooms, for example – can be summoned by players of both Nintendo consoles. It adds some extra comedy and a bit more excitement to proceedings on Wii U and 3DS, and makes perfect sense. At least PC users can use the object editor to create custom versions of Mario, et al.
VERDICT: Scribblenauts Unlimited remains a solid improvement to an already entertaining title. Some of the problems of the past have been improved upon, and the game is much more open and free than ever before. Of course, more words than ever have also been added into the dictionary, so there is a smaller chance that any word you type will be unknown to the title (aside from swear words, crude words and proper nouns). Gamers who enjoyed the past Nintendo DS games will find plenty of new content and ideas at play to encourage them back – especially as the extra 3DS development time has brought the features more in-line with the Wii U version.
If you have the luxury of owning all three platforms, the Wii U version is the obvious winner, supplying great creation tools and better customisation options. But if the game is something you want to quickly dip in and out of every now and again, a handheld version makes perfect sense. Why boot up your console and TV when the 3DS will provide immediate gameplay? So grab your stylus and put on your creative hat – there is an unending variety of ways you can tackle this title and make the experience your own personal story.
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.