As one of the more imaginative franchises to appear in the last few years, we’ve always been excited by the prospect of a new addition to the Scribblenauts family, but the promise of a brand new title in Scribblenauts Unlimited that was build to take advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad interface was far more exciting than anything that had come before. For the first time in HD on a Nintendo system, Maxwell and his magic notebook embark on a light-hearted adventure with somewhat more serious undertones of the greater good, helping others and social responsibility bubbling below the surface.
With its bright, colourful appearance, whimsical music and apparently kid-friendly cartoon-styled characters, it might appear that Scribblenauts Unlimited is a game that’s aimed at younger players, but the truth is that it’s a smashing little title for all ages, and one that will prove more rewarding for those learning the English language, or who already have a firm understanding of its basics, as well as a reasonably large vocabulary.
Unlike pretty much any other series of game around right now (not counting the painfully education-focused titles that litter the PC market), the Scribblenauts universe is based almost exclusively around words. While you can manoeuvre Max traditionally, that is to say you can use the analog stick to navigate the world and utilize a jump function, it’s certainly not a platformer as you might expect from that setup.
To help you better understand exactly what you’re getting here, it’s helpful to first take a look at the basic jist of the game’s storyline. It starts with a storyline cut-scene detailing the game’s back story, something that’s a touch out of character for the series to date, but nevertheless welcome for newcomers. Narrated by his sister Lily, it introduces us to Maxwell’s magic notebook and its ability to create objects from words. Being the reckless young’un that he is, Max decides to play a trick on a hungry old man by creating a rotten apple for him to eat. Enraged by Maxwell’s devious act, the old man casts a spell on Lily, gradually turning her to stone, before disappearing. Fortunately, there exists things called Starites within the Scribblenauts universe; strange little artefacts comprised of the happiness of others, and only these Starites can save Lily from her curse.
Already it’s apparent that Scribblenauts is focused on teaching us the benefits of being nice to people, rather than nasty, which will certainly do no harm to the younger generation, and is a pleasant deviation from shooting people in the face in online first person shooters for us older folk. Knowing that the only way to save your sister is to be nice to everyone he meets, Maxwell sets out into the world in order to collect as many Starites as he possibly can to prevent the curse from spreading any further.
It’s from this point that the game genuinely starts to get interesting. Armed with your notebook, you’re tasked with crafting the solutions to the problems of others by creating objects to improve their quality of life, solve their issues and protect them from harm. It’s the mix of the notebook mechanic and the Wii U’s unique interface that really makes everything come together. Tapping on one of the denizens of the game world will present you with their quandary, the solution to which resides in your imagination.
That’s the beauty of Scribblenauts as a franchise; there are no concrete right answers. Every puzzle has an abundance of solutions, depending on your viewpoint and how imaginative you are. Everyone who plays the game is likely to find a different resolution to the countless problems that lie within, ensuring a unique experience for each player. Some of the puzzles are easy enough; a young girl early on in the game needs to get her cat down from a tree, for example. Opening Maxwell’s notebook and typing “ladder” offers an immediate solution – now all you need to do is place it against the tree, have Maxwell walk up it to grab the cat, and return it to the girl to make her happy.
The notebook, obviously the key tool in Maxwell’s armoury, is an extraordinarily powerful little thing. It’s powered by an incredibly exhaustive vocabulary database that’ll let you create things like a “giant pink monkey”, or affect existing game world objects by changing their characteristics. There’s one particular problem within the first few levels which tasks Max with safely getting rid of some toxic waste that resulted in some seriously furrowed brows until we remembered we could change things. Tapping each barrel and adding the adjective “tiny” allowed us to pick them up and store them safely in a safe lying at the bottom of the sea bed. It’s certainly not the only solution to the problem, we’re sure, but it served as a timely reminder that the game is about more than just creation.
The expansiveness of the object creation and manipulation goes even further, allowing you to create custom items by merging your creations together. Need an elephant wearing a top hat that rolls around on wheels? No problem! Create everything you need and combine them into a custom object and you’ve got it. The game is able to save more than 900 custom objects apparently – we don’t have the patience required to test that though, so you’ll have to take developer 5th Cell’s word on it.
Despite being the type of game that’s easily played in single player by a group, each shouting their suggestions for the puzzles as they arise, there’s also an actual multiplayer mode to be enjoyed here too. It’s not quite as immersive for the second player, using a Wii Remote, as it is for the first, using the GamePad, but taking control of any available on screen object does offer plenty of amusement. There’s also neat online functionality that allows players to share their custom objects with other players through their own shop of sorts. You’ll be able to completely tweak and tailor anything your imagination can create to your own requirements before distributing them among gamers everywhere, which is nice if you’re into that kind of thing.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced on a home console before. Those of you who have played previous handheld and mobile versions of the game will fall in step with what’s required of you immediately, while complete newcomers might take a while to really appreciate the scope of the gameplay possibilities on offer here. It might look like it’s aimed at the younger demographic, but there’s so much depth and enjoyment to be gotten from its exceedingly clever interface that adults will arguably have more fun than younger players. And as an educational tool, we can certainly see it coming in handy for those wanting to expand their vocabulary, improve their reading skills or even adopt English as a new language.
It’s fresh, it’s clever, it’s colourful and it’s damn well great. Scribblenauts Unlimited is completely different from the rest of the Wii U launch titles, but it’s a game that everyone needs to add to their collection!