Since games™’s Scribblenauts Unlimited review was printed, Nintendo has pushed back the release date to later in the year.
Scribblenauts makes big promises from the moment the title screen flashes across the screen. The word Unlimited arresting your attention, it has massive connotations, especially when building upon what’s already come before. Scribblenauts is a puzzle game that encourages players to use a magical notebook to create anything imaginable. Where 2010’s Super Scribblenauts let you assign adjectives to objects, increasing the variety of play and puzzle solving methods, Unlimited promises to let you add your own words and associations to the already bursting lexicon available. Sadly, for a game that promises untapped potential, it too often leans on thinking within the box.
We once again assume the roll of Maxwell, and his adventure begins with a lesson in humilty. After having played a trick on a hungry old man, Maxwell’s sister becomes cursed, becoming petrified with each passing day. The only way you can save her, ironically enough, is by completing good deeds.
This is the first Scribblenauts adventure to come to consoles, and when presented on Wii U and PC, the areas look great in beautiful HD. Unlike preview iterations which offered set puzzle scenarios that you had to overcome with the full force of your creative thinking, Unlimited instead offers a Super Mario World-style hub with Maxwell progressing through themed zones such as a desert, a haunted house and a pirate ship to earn enough good-will to free his sister.
The zones themselves are finely detailed, and the puzzles dotted across expansive levels. It’s perhaps this expansion where Scribblenauts begins to falter. Where in previous versions you could explore multiple (and often hilarious) solutions to the puzzle at hand, Unlimited only asks for a simpler, single solution before you move on to help the next citizen. This of course creates a faster flow to play, with mini-stories playing out across multiple characters, creating a cascading series of events. While this brings about more frequent occasions where a smile may be planted firmly across your face, it does remove much of the creative thinking that has come to define the series.
Once the realisation hits that the game not only requires the bear minimum to progress, but subconsciously encourages it, it begins to take much of the fun away. Played in bursts of longer than 30 minutes at a time, you begin to see the cracks forming underneath an otherwise source of carefree fun. One underwater cavern is full of toxic waste that you must eagerly remove. Summoning a black hole to send it to the netherworld doesn’t register, nor does editing the object to become ‘untoxic waste’. In the end blasting it with a shotgun so the drum-container explodes all over the sea floor was the ‘correct’ solution. To be fair, most puzzles can be solved with a shotgun blast, not out of laziness, but because more creative solutions often falter.