Developer: 5th Cell | Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment | Played On: 3DS | Price: $39.99 | ESRB: E10+ [Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief]
The lure to the Scribblenauts franchise has remained the same game in and game out: use your imagination to create any object you can think of and have it appear in the game world. It is the heart of the series and where the different iterations of Scribblenauts shine; I was always impressed that I could actually create just about everything I had in mind. That said, while each new Scribblenauts game offered more creation opportunities and surprises, the same problems tended to show up again and again. Though they tried, not even the entire DC Universe can save Maxwell from another run of the mill adventure.
The largest factor that sets Scribblenauts Unmasked apart from the rest of the Scribblenauts games is the inclusion of DC superheroes, characters, locations, and items. Though series protagonist Maxwell has always been able to conjure up anything his heart (or your heart, rather) desires, bringing licensed characters to the game world has been restricted – until now.
Just like the catalog of objects, people, and adjectives impressed in past games, the amount of DC faces you can conjure up is equally praiseworthy. From Aquaman to Zod, damn near every important (and some unimportant) person, weapon, and object can be created. On top of that, several different versions of each hero and villain can be formed. For instance you can have Man of Steel’s version of Superman meet and greet the Superman from Action Comics no. 1. The depth of the DC license is astounding and will easily please any DC Comics readers.
Though newer entries have tried to flesh out more of a story, Scribblenauts Unmasked does the best job tying together events with a cohesive plot. You once again play as Maxwell, an eager and energetic boy with a magical notebook capable of bringing to life anything he writes within its pages. By a strange accident Maxwell and his twin sister Lily are transported to Gotham City where they are enlisted by Batman himself to aid in defeating the Joker, who has teamed up with Maxwell’s evil clone Doppelganger who also has a magical notebook!
Batman and Maxwell discover that the Doppelganger is after the Starite pieces that will grant him unbelievable power. In order to stop that from happening and to return to his home, Maxwell must recover all the Starites by searching through a few DC-themed locales. Although the story is without a doubt on the backburner, it is nice to see some semblance of narrative to the gameplay, and the way you get to help out several DC heroes makes it even more enjoyable.
Sadly this is where the differences between Scribblenauts Unmasked and the rest of the series end. One of the biggest issues with Unmasked, which can also be said about past Scribblenauts games, is the puzzles. Spread throughout the levels are random characters and objects that need your assistance in one way or another. There might be a hungry child wanting a meal, a witch yearning an ingredient for her potion, or a house on fire that needs to be put out. It’s fun to create a three course meal for the peckish kid but it’s never too challenging. Worse yet, they have little to no relevance to the setting: why is there a witch in the Fortress of Solitude? The quests are randomly generated so each time you load up a level there will be something else to do, but with the entire DC license to work with this is a largely missed opportunity to do something special. The main storyline quests all feature the superhero motif, so having the side quests arbitrarily placed just seems silly to me. It doesn’t help that with only a little over a dozen levels to explore, the game is completed rather quickly.
Another problem that I’ve run into again is a lack of reward for creativity when solving puzzles. As you progress through the game you undoubtedly use a few words or adjectives frequently: flying, gun, and giant were a few of my favorites. Several of the quests and puzzles you must solve can be conquered by reusing the same few objects again and again. The game implements a system to encourage you to expand your vocabulary by giving only half of the points for reused words on a mission, but you can still reuse them to complete the level regardless.
An optional mode becomes available upon return trips to completed levels, and gives you special rules to govern your notebook use, like only writing words that start with “D”, or having everything in the world move twice as fast. Even with these in play the game still feels light on challenge and surprisingly low on content.
More glaring issues arose during gameplay as well, not the least of which are the glitches. On several occasions the game froze up on me completely, requiring me to either start over the mission or turn off my 3DS entirely. In one instance all of the icons on the screen disappeared, with no way to write in my notebook or transport to a different zone, forcing me to quit and start over. Outside of glitches I experienced significant slowdowns when the amount of objects on screen began to pile up.
From a visual standpoint, Unmasked nails it and looks wonderful: it is by far the best looking game in the series. The visuals were always of the cartoony style, almost like you were playing with a paper craft world, but this 3DS version is the most crisp and refined graphically. Backgrounds especially stand out, with plenty of clever detail being dropped into every world (like Bruce Wayne’s bed sheets being adorned with the Batman logo).
I also chuckled a few times at the dialogue. Since Maxwell read all about the characters in their respective comics before jumping into their world, he knows more about them than they do. Thus, he sometimes lets slip important details that generate interesting responses from the DC characters.
My biggest complaint with Scribblenauts Unmasked is the “been there, done that” feeling. For those of you that have played a past Scribblenauts game, Unmasked will feel like more of the same, except now you can summon the Green Lantern to do your bidding instead of a generic superhero. Don’t get me wrong, the concept behind the game is fantastic and one of the more unique premises out there, but I think the novelty of the series has worn off. Worse yet, the DC license wasn’t used to its fullest: the setting, characters, and tone are all there, but the overall experience leaves you craving for more.
Though Scribblenauts Unmasked attempts to spruce up the formula from past games, the steps forward aren’t nearly enough to pull the game out of the realm of mediocrity. For comic book fans this game is a brilliant playground of all things DC. If you have yet to enjoy a game in the series then I encourage you to pick up your stylus and start creating to your heart’s desire. The core gameplay is still enjoyable and the addition of DC characters makes this game the most expansive yet. But if you’ve already played around as God with Maxwell’s notebook then there is little reason to return.
+ Impressive amount of DC Comics content
- “Been there, done that” feeling
- A huge missed opportunity with side quests
6.5 / 10