Reviews// Scribblenauts Unlimited

Posted 30 Jan 2013 16:33 by
Warning: This review contains some very minor puzzle spoilers.

Iíve never felt that Scribblenauts as a series has lived up to its promise.

The concept is a great one. Youíre presented with a scenario and a problem, you must then think of an object that will solve the it. Youíre encouraged to think outside the box, use your imagination, try and solve the puzzle in the most unique way possible.

Whilst the game impresses with its huge library of game assets, you soon discover that many of them make no impact to the world youíve conjured them into. The game completely falls apart when you believe youíve thought of a logical solution only to find out that you werenít thinking along the same lines as the designer.

With the introduction of adjectives in Super Scribblenauts the library of objects that you could create was further expanded and a sequel was justified. However, the rather arrogantly titled Scribblenauts Unlimited fails to offer such a step forward.

It does, however, offer a story mode in an effort to add background to Maxwellís story. Although the tale is lacking, dry and ultimately forgettable it does mean that we are no longer simply just given a list of puzzles to solve, we now have a world to explore.

This is where Scribblenauts Unlimited shines. The various locations Maxwell is dropped into are full of characters, animals and objects that require your help. Some are worth a shard of a Starite, these are usually smaller challenges that require one object from Maxwellís notebook. Others are worth a full Starite and represent the puzzles from the older games.

Both challenges have their own high and low points. The Starite puzzles can feel extremely limited at times and you seem punished for using your wild imagination rather than commended. However, if you get stuck the game has a really nice hint system based on a timer. The longer it takes you to solve a puzzle the more hints it will let you have the option of using.

Some puzzles are better than others but they all get delightfully bizarre. For example, serving up an apple for a school boyís lunch seems fair enough to help him grow up big and strong, but I hadnít really expected to think of the dark thoughts that I had when he was shortly followed by a hungry cannibal asking for a nice meal.

Still, itís all in good fun and the game constantly surprises you with itís odd and sometimes outright dark sense of humour.

The smaller challenges offer less satisfaction. Usually these comprise of really simple requests from NPCs that are either as simple as asking for an object outright leaving no challenge at all or so ambiguous that youíre left to just try anything that might even be associated with your task giver in order to get your shard and move on.

This is one of the issues that the designers have had to face. When creating a puzzle game that can be solved in as many different ways as Scribblenauts claims, where is the challenge?

Unfortunately, even at the third attempt, the series has failed to find that even balance between challenge and freedom. Some puzzles are as easy as thinking of a vegetable, while others require a specific answer and thatís just not what I opted in for.

All this leaves me thinking that maybe the engine would be better used away from the puzzle format. I found that I had much more fun in the previous games in the start menus than in the puzzles themselves. Although I think 5th Cell has done well to make the puzzles more interesting this time, itís the simple act of testing the gameís bank of objects that provides more entertainment.

In fact the most fun I had with the game was when I treated it more like Grand Theft Auto directly after saving. When I got bored of the main game and decided to put the console down, I would plan to spend five minutes thinking of objects, spawning them and watch how they interacted with each other.

Soon enough half an hour would fly by and I had a bigger grin on my face than at any other time with the game.

Visually, Scribblenauts has been improved to take advantage of the 3DSís specs. It looks a lot more like the Wii U version than the previous handheld games but i was left extremely disappointed that it has almost completely ignored the 3DSí 3D capabilities.

Other than the cutscenes that are really poorly rendered in 3D (to the point where my eyes truly were hurting and seemingly the 3D slider ineffective) the game is completely 2D. Itís such a missed opportunity, especially when taking into account the games art style. Seeing the world youíre exploring layered would have added a lot and made the game feel more stand alone than a cheap Wii U port.

But itís hard to stay angry at Scribblenauts Unlimited. It does a lot wrong, there is no doubting that and with an iOS version of a previous game available for 69p, this becomes extremely hard to recommend considering the lack of real improvements over its predecessors.

However, if youíve never played a game in this series before, then this would be the one to get. 5th Cell have created an gaming mechanic that I still feel has bags of potential, but all Scribblenauts Unlimited is showing is that they are not using it in quite the right way.

UPDATE: As you will have seen, Scribblenauts Unlimited has been delayed in the UK and Europe on 3DS and Wii U. : END UPDATE

+ Vast amount of objects still impresses
+ The humour is as strong as ever
+ When left to the player, fun can be created simply by using their own imagination

- Not quite hit the balance between freedom and challenge
- Feels like a simple port of the WiiU version
- Hasnít improved on the series significantly.

Games: Scribblenauts Unlimited


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