By Leo Stevenson
Scribblenauts has jumped from the small screen of your DS and iPhone and onto your TV (or PC monitor) with the release of Scribblenauts Unlimited. Maxwell is back in his biggest -- and most charmingly adorable -- adventure yet. I know it seems a little crazy to pay retail console prices for a game you can (mostly) pick up for cheap on iPhone, but trust me, it's totally worth it.
This is the first Scribblenauts to actually feature a story. Granted, it's mostly fluff and never truly impacts the game in any meaningful way, but it does give Maxwell a family and a backstory told appropriately through a colourful and pleasantly narrated cartoon. It's not essential to the Scribblenauts experience, yet it helps to add another layer of charm on this already impossibly charming world.
In a departure from the previous games, Unlimited features a seamless world for you to explore. Instead of selecting a level from a map, now you simply stroll through the world with Maxwell, helping out along the way with your magic pen and pad. It's quite freeing to walk through the colourful and varied locations conjuring objects as you please rather than being confined to one small level and puzzle at a time.
Scribblenauts is essentially a puzzle game that tasks you with helping achieve certain conditions -- help a girl retrieve her cat from a tree or make sure the boy's date goes successfully -- but its magic lies in the freedom you're given in solving these puzzles. In Scribblenauts, you can solve the puzzle almost an infinite number of ways; the only real limitation is your own vocabulary and ability to think creatively. Your one and only tool is the notepad. Type anything -- excluding copyright properties, celebrities or rude stuff -- and it will pop magically into life. As long as the item you conjured can be used to solve the puzzle, you're golden.
Take the girl's cat stuck in the tree as an example. The first time I created an axe and had Maxwell chop down the tree; simple yet effective. I wanted to be more creative, so I tried a few more times to see what would work. I gave the girl a new cat which made her old cat jealous and it came down on its own. Solved. I gave Maxwell wings, flew up and retrieved the cat on my own. Solved. I even created termites and had them eat the tree trunk so it fell and the cat came down with it.
The puzzles are not always so straight forward, though the way you solve them is really up to you. One puzzle I came across involved two parties. A worker who needed to cut down a tree and a hippy tied to the tree who wanted to save it. I could have solved it so that one or the other was happy, but that didn't seem right. Instead I decided to go abstract and created "Free Will". I gave the "Free Will" to the worker who decided he didn't need to cut down the tree and left of his own accord. Both the hippy and the worker were happy and the puzzle was solved.
In the original Scribblenauts only objects could be created. Super Scribblenauts introduced adjectives and Scribblenauts Unlimited takes it a step further. Every single object can be interacted with and edited. See a bird, simply select it, choose "Add Adjective" and you can make it a robot, or zombie, or made of wax, or giant or any manner of other things. Furthermore Scribblenauts Unlimited gives you the same tools as the developers and lets you create new objects. Simply enter the "object editor" start with a base item and go crazy with your own creations. I personally created "Paul". Paul is the "devil" painted half blue and made miniature. Not particularly useful for puzzle solving, but fun to watch him run around trying to destroy stuff.
Better still, there is an online hub where you can go and share your creations with other players all over the world. There is some seriously awesome stuff available already and as people spend more time with the editor I can see a lot of potential.
How does the game work on Wii U with the GamePad? Fantastically. Like with NSMBU the GamePad screen displays an identical feed to what you're seeing on your TV so you can play the entire game without you TV on, but for a game like Scibblenauts it just works. It's the kind of game you can play absent-mindedly whilst watching TV or a movie. That's not a criticism in any way either. Scribblenauts is best played in short bursts so as not to lose its "Je ne sais quoi" and become tedious.
Clicking on objects by tapping on the GamePad screen feels great and actually typing in your objects must be done via the touchscreen. A nifty feature of the GamePad screen lets you activate "Starite Vision" (Starites being the collectible of Scribblenauts). Starite Vision turns the world grey while showing those who need help as gold. The TV doesn't change during Starite Vision so only the GamePad screen is effected. It's a simple but effective use of the additional screen.
The only issues I have with Scribblenauts are the lack of variety in the puzzles and the simplicity with which they can be solved. Both of which may come down to my lack of imagination or from blasting through the game rather quickly. Like previous games in the series, most puzzles can be solved the same way and after a while it becomes difficult to see another way or bother trying when what you've done 10 times previously works. This is why -- like I said earlier -- the game should be played in short bursts. That way, you won't be brain fried or too lazy to be creative.
The real fun in Scribblenauts is the discovery of what you can create and seeing how those creations react within the world. You'd be amazed at the things you can cojnure and how they can help and/or hinder your progress. As for the much touted Nintendo licensed objects? While they are fun and cute they don't drastically change the game. My guess is (like me) you'll check them out for curiosity's sake and then forget about them as you try and solve every puzzle as creatively as possible.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is the best Scribblenauts yet and works wonderfully on the Wii U. The GamePad functionality is perfectly implemented and off TV play is once again a surprising delight. It won't change your life and isn't a game you will spend hours with each night but it's an excellent game to play on a lazy afternoon if you want to give your brain -- and your funny bone -- a work out.