Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 12/19/12

A playground for the mind

Ever heard of Harold and the Purple Crayon? It’s about a boy who has a magic crayon, and this crayon enables him to draw anything his heart desired. His descendant must be little Maxwell, because Scribblenauts Unlimited allows one’s imagination to take flight. The previous entries seem now to simply be stepping stones to this, the best and most complete portable entry in the franchise to date. It may not have all the features of its PC and Wii U counterparts, but Scribblenauts Unlimited not only makes the transfer to 3DS wonderfully, but it has the added benefit of being on the go. This is a must-buy for any young 3DS players.

The game follows the adventures of Maxwell, and I suppose this game is a follow-up, narratively speaking, to the other games in the series. A magical pen and paper have been bestowed upon Maxwell by his wealthy parents to help teach him responsibility. It’s all pretty odd; because of a curse, Maxwell’s sister is turning into stone, and the way to stop it is if Maxwell does good deeds for the townspeople (and his forty-plus siblings). He comes from a rich, adventurous family, you see, and he must learn (with effective and spirited use of the magic pen and paper) how to help others.

So Maxwell’s doing it not out of his own curiosity, but rather to teach him a lesson. Yes, it’s important to help others, but this should not have been seen as a way to prevent his sister from becoming completely petrified. They turn it into a means to an end, a chore, to save a life needlessly at risk; helping people should not be considered a chore, or as a counter to having your sister turned to stone. I think what bothers me the most is that Maxwell doesn’t show the slightest inkling of greed, spite or mean-spiritedness. His parents just think this quest will help Maxwell learn to not be spoiled, and yet the pen and paper give him whatever he wants anyway.

The story, then, is ill-contrived and delivers a confusing message. It’s certainly more creative than, say, an evil sorcerer terrorizing the place, but I reckon it’s not any better. It’s best to avoid the story and concentrate on the gameplay behind Scribblenauts Unlimited, which is leagues above its predecessors.

The first few games had a menu-based system for accessing puzzles; perhaps the biggest change in Scribblenauts Unlimited is the doing-away of a menu system and including a more open world for its puzzles. Maxwell travels on a world map to various hub worlds, and each hub world is its own theme. The young boy will head to a fire station, a hospital, an undersea kingdom, a school and even to outer space. These are all coupled into similarly-themed areas which become unlocked as you progress. It’s nice to have a sense of cohesion in a Scribblenauts game, and it makes the puzzles seem a lot less arbitrary and cobbled-together.

Scribblenauts Unlimited’s gimmick is that Maxwell can summon objects with his magic pen and paper. There are literally thousands of objects Maxwell can summon, from spoons to jetpacks to Cthulu himself. On top of that, he can apply a handful of adjectives to each noun to change their properties. Ever wondered who would win in a fight between an angry blue giant angel and a happy pink tiny devil? Well, now you can find out. Do you want to see a spotted dragon ride in a cherry picker while playing the violin? Well, you get the idea. Maxwell can even apply adjectives to himself, to make him faster, prickly, blue or diseased - whatever you want to do, and whatever has to be done to solve puzzles.

SU’s world is filled with people and animals in need of favors. Some are minor and require little effort on your part. The currency of the game is Starites; big tasks net you Starites, and small tasks net you Starite Fragments, which are one tenth of a Starite. A chef may need a utensil to cook with, you give him a spoon, and you can then get a Starite Fragment. If you summon six scary objects a director needs for a horror movie, he’ll reward you with a Starite. SU is essentially a collection of several dozen large puzzles and several hundred small puzzles. Accumulated Starites grant you access to new worlds, and acquiring a certain amount of the 114 total Starites saves your sister.

The puzzles vary in difficulty and scope, but I wouldn’t say there’s much of a difficulty curve. The game remains equally difficult throughout the game, as some levels are unlocked simultaneously and must therefore be of about the same difficulty. The game will provide clues in somewhat cryptic language (“This cannon needs some ammunition!”) and you’ll have to fill in the “logic gap” by summoning a cannonball. Bigger challenges tend to help you along with small hints that unlock progressively. If you take more than a minute, the game will throw the answer at you. In this way, the game is likely challenging enough for young children and will give them a fair challenge on their own (tapping into their common knowledge: if it’s a logical solution to the real-world scenario, it’ll likely work in Scribblenauts Unlimited) without taxing them too much.

I found the game had some odd, vocabulary-related difficulty spikes. First off, the game is much easier if the player has a large vocabulary. The game will throw out words I’d think would be difficult for children like amphibious, ridiculous and others. Some of the puzzles’ solutions can be vague and difficult to figure out. Though many of these puzzles are optional, I found myself fit to be tied thinking up things like Ark of the Covenant and Diseased Cthulu to solve some of the more obscure puzzles with only the most basic hints.

Overall, though, Scribblenauts Unlimited succeeds in its gameplay because of the sheer inventory of items and puzzles the game throws at you. You can let your imagination run wild in Unlimited much more than in the previous iterations in the series; the game even allows for more objects on screen than previous entries, which can even make things a bit too cluttered from time to time. It’ll take several hours to unlock all the avatars and beat all the puzzles; in addition to the campaign, there are 216 mini-challenges, categorized by theme, for you to try your hand at.

A few problems I feel are of note: the menus are a little clunky. I would have liked to see more options on the screen at once instead of having to scroll one-by-one through mission objectives or two-by-two through unlocked avatars. Also (and this isn’t truly game-breaking), I could swear that there are some challenges I simply could not complete after I completed specific objectives and left the area. Some Starite Fragments, I’ve found, are unobtainable unless you do them all in sequence in the same sitting without leaving the room; resetting the area does not allow you to complete these lost objectives. It’s really bothersome for completionists but, again, there are plenty of small challenges for this to not be an unbeatable game.

The game’s graphics are charming. The art style is all the more delightful on the 3DS, although I’m disappointed there’s no 3D integration at all. The game’s engine can handle a lot more, and the backgrounds, while not as crisp as their HD counterparts, are still rather nice. As for the music, it’s a slight step up from the first two titles: crisp, cheery and atmospheric music takes up most of the soundtrack. A charismatic female narrator helps bookend the interestingly-animated opening and ending sequences, which makes the whole experience feel a bit like a storybook.

Replay value is here in spades. No, there’s no “create your own object” editor, but I really don’t mind that. There’s more than enough content to keep players busy for weeks in the world of Super Scribblenauts. If you don’t want to tackle the challenges the game sets out for you, fine. Make your own. Find out which adjective makes your avatar the fastest, or burn a town to rubble riding a dragon and wielding a giant crossbow. Why not?

This game comes highly recommended by me; it’s about the only 3DS game I paid full price for that’s actually worth it. With its nice graphics, cute soundtrack and intriguing gameplay, Scribblenauts Unlimited is a hit. My only drawbacks are the unbeatable Starite challenges, the menu hiccups and the complete lack of multiplayer. You’ll be collecting Starites for weeks!

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Scribblenauts Unlimited (US, 11/13/12)

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