Developer: 5th Cell Media / Publisher: Warner Bros. Games / Played On: Wii U, PC / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief]
Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS sparked the interest of gamers the world over with its unexplored take on true choice in video games: choice being the creation of any object you can imagine. You could turn (nearly) any thought that came to mind into an object that existed in a hand-drawn world. It would live, it would act, and it would put you one step closer to completing your objective. It was hampered by its linear, repetitive style and mission structure, but praised for its creativity and innovation in trying something previously untried.
Scribblenauts Unlimited aims to deliver a Scribblenauts experience that takes on the pitfalls and pros of the open world while at the same time departing for the first time the mobile space where it was born. It’s a game that’s successful in tugging along its series’ tradition of charm and wit, and adds a ton of familiar content that hardcore vocabulary Vikings will enjoy.
But despite all of its child-like charm, unbridled wit, and zealousness for inspiring creativity in the player, Scribblenauts Unlimited is quite simply what its title implies: near limitless amounts of the familiar Scribblenauts gameplay we’ve seen in its mobile incarnations, but that’s unfortunately about all it offers.
Like Scribblenauts games gone by, Scribblenauts Unlimited is light on narrative and places the focus squarely on creative puzzles to solve. There is a light story that helps give you a sense of the world you’re inhabiting. It’s a story of a brother and a sister – Maxwell, the main protagonist of every Scribblenauts entry prior, and his sister, Lily. Given that their parents were both adventurers, the couple felt it necessary to force two of their 42 children (yes, 42) out into the world with only a magical notepad in hand – those two being Maxwell and Lily. The magical notepad they possess physically spawns into the world any object that is penned in its pages. One day, Maxwell and Lily are approached by an old man in need of food, where the two youngsters instead play a mean, silly trick on him. It’s revealed that he is a wizard of sorts, and isn’t too happy with their childish tricks, so he curses Lily with a spell that slowly turns her to stone.
Maxwell learns that he can reverse Lily’s spell by performing lots of nice gestures and collecting starite particles that appear when said nice gestures are performed. With that, Maxwell is sent off to help the people of the world and begin his adventure.
It’s here that Scribblenauts Unlimited really begins to set its tone as a game that’s not specifically exclusive to children, but does lean aggressively toward that demographic. Its story is easy to understand and detailed very blankly through short, colorful animations and doesn’t notably ramp up over the game’s course.
It’s a fine enough arc that pushes you to collect pretty ambitiously (at first) to assure Lily’s safety as she slowly becomes a granite statue (comparable to those found in public parks), it’s just a shame that all that collecting you’ll do becomes so overbearingly repetitive and familiar that motivation to continue dissipates as you play familiar mission after familiar mission.
Purple jetpacks, tiny dinosaurs, huge chicken suits and pink chocolate cake. These are just some of the random objects you can create in Scribblenauts Unlimited, as was possible in the series’ past entries. The library of creatable objects feels as expansive as it’s ever been, and that’s great to see. With the exception of a handful of very specific, niche items, I was hard-pressed to come up with objects that I couldn’t spawn into any given situation. The designers really did think of everything.
You can essentially perform two functions with the notepad: create objects and add adjectives to existing objects. The former allows you to do as previously described: create any sort of whacky creation your head can materialize, so long as it exists in the real world. However, the adjectives functionality allows you to get creative with these real-world objects. Create a pig and add the “flying” adjective to give him new means of travel options, or turn a careless butterfly into a “large angry butterfly” and see him float gracefully around a city attacking civilians at his leisure.
Objects you spawn stick around for the duration of your saved game, so that giant pink gorilla you spawned to fight that winged purple elephant from earlier will be there whenever you venture back to that part of the world. If you were waiting for an open-world Scribblenauts… I’m sorry. This frankly isn’t it – it’s more or less a big world map with dozens and dozens of slightly larger-than-average levels to visit and complete missions within. There’s a multi-level sandbox here that’s begging to be appreciated as an open world – it’s just lame that Scribblenauts has locked itself into a repetitive cycle of one linear mission after another.
Playing through the game allows you to partake in two predominant mission types – structured missions with set goals that take place in a contained area, and short, personal objectives that usually only require the creation of one object to suit an individual’s particular needs. These missions may ask you to help a princess feel pretty by creating something a princess wears, like a dress, tiara, or sparkly shoes. Another mission might require you to help a man who’s bored and wishes for you to entertain him. To remedy this (and in the interest of my own time), I simply created a “funny clown” and left him to enjoy it. I had my earned starite and was on my way. Fundamentally, every mission went like this.
The other mission type, as mentioned earlier, is a structured objective that has you completing a straight round of scripted sequences through the creation of objects and altering of others through adding adjectives to their name. This may involve you helping firefighters prepare a fire truck to hose down hordes of the undead, or maybe help an art museum manager fill paintings with objects that suit his liking.
Again, these missions are fun and creative and push you ever-so-slightly to stretch your imagination with what works and what doesn’t. But aside from the object creator and editor, where you can create new characters and objects of all varieties and import them into your world, there’s not much more to do in Scribblenauts Unlimited than can’t be enjoyed in the 3DS or, dare I say it, iPhone version. The larger-scale environments help to make it feel like a larger, console Scribblenauts adventure, but it unfortunately falls flat in its drab effort to feel like anything more than a mission pack DLC for another Scribblenauts game.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is just more Scribblenauts, sadly. It may have slightly larger levels, a floss-thin narrative and a wonderful art style, but with the exception of the new object editor and the ability to share objects with your Wii U friends, it’s still just Scribblenauts on a bigger screen… but only slightly bigger.
I say only slightly because all of the action takes place on the Gamepad, essentially negating the need for the television at all.
The question remains… if you’re going to buy Scribblenauts Unlimited, why on the Wii U? The screen is not that much larger than that of the Nintendo 3DS (or a tablet), and you won’t be able to play the game staring at the television, as all it displays is what you’re seeing on the Gamepad but with none of the control options or HUD. This makes the game feel like it truly wants to be a mobile game like its counterparts. It’s a weird feeling when you realize that you haven’t looked at your TV once since you booted the game up, and that you might as well not be on a console at all. I’m not arguing that being able to play exclusively on the Gamepad is a bad thing, I’m saying that playing with the TV on is not only unnecessary, it’s inconvenient as a mechanism of play.
You may get as much kick out of Scribblenauts Unlimited as you have with past games, and you might even sink many hours into this game crafting objects and populating levels with the creations of your mind – but for the price it requires and the level of variety and content it doesn’t offer, Scribblenauts Unlimited is just an okay game. It might be good for you, it might be great for your kids to play – but it’s not a recommendation for all new Wii U owners – not for $60. It definitely wasn’t for me.
If you have a capable PC and definitely want to play this game, I definitely recommend the Steam version. It’s $30 cheaper and even has full Steam Workshop mod/sharing support. The Nintendo 3DS version is also available for a significantly lower price, also worth your consideration over the Wii U version.