I first saw Scibblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U at the Nintendo Holiday event; but due to the fact that I couldn’t stay very long (coupled with someone always playing the game when I checked out the booth), I only got to observe the game from a distance. After spending some time with it, my journalist notebook seems to pale in comparison to the magic notebook that I get to play with in the game.
The game begins with Maxwell, our main protagonist, finding out that playing tricks on people is not a good idea. His sister, Lily, has been cursed to slowly turn to stone by an old man that Maxwell was not-so-nice to. The only way to stop this horrible process is for Maxwell to collect Starites (and Starite shards) – that is, he has to use his notebook to help people and make them happy. How will he do this? Well, Maxwell’s magic notebook has the power to create practically any object. If you can think of a noun, the notebook can almost always produce it. If you can add an adjective? Even better.
And so, you take Maxwell around the sprawling map to solve many, many puzzles. Most of the problems available to solve are small (for instance: someone is feeling sad and needs a laugh) ; some are large (help a doctor perform surgery) – there are even some “lightning round” scenarios where you are given a rapid succession of tiny puzzles to solve. While there is an overall story, you can explore all of the areas in practically any order, so long as they are unlocked. Your creations will remain wherever you left them – so you can come back and play with them at any time.
Gorilla my dreams.
The game is not difficult by any stretch of the imagination. Most problems have a one word solution, which might lead the player to believe that the game is boring. This is not always the case as there are some very interesting and obscure problems to solve. How do you help a monster integrate itself into society? How do you convince some ancient evil that it is actually beautiful after you held up a mirror and showed it how hideous it was in the first place?
Additionally, coming up with closed solutions can be even more challenging, as even a single word can lead to some pretty hilarious situations, with the solution causing a cascading effect that changes the nature of a level. For instance, I was exploring one of the areas and found a sad-looking cockroach. After clicking on it, I found out that it was lonely, so I created another cockroach to keep the first one company. Bad idea: eventually there were a lot more cockroaches and people were freaking out. So, I created an exterminator – who promptly turned and ran, after which point I created two giant spiders to deal with the problem – which led to even greater panic in the level as the spiders started chasing after the civilians. Luckily, after they had their buffet, I was able to throw the spiders into the trash. I was pretty impressed that the developers could create such a flexible engine that reacted reasonably to my demands – even though some of my notebook entries were somewhat fantastic in nature.
The visuals are sharp and vivid – HD is kind to Scribblenauts. The only issue I had (which is really trifling) is that everything is equally colorful and bright. Distinguishing what might be a puzzle and what is just part of the environment would be very difficult were it not for Maxwell’s ability to see potential sources of Starite. Simply activate the Starite Vision and you’ll be able to see what is a puzzle and what is not. Audio is cartoonish and cute – while it is not really anything that will blow you away, it is clear and matches the action on the screen.
Did somebody say “Camelot”?
The Wii U’s GamePad is the main method of control here. Maxwell is controlled by using the analog stick and the notepad and all related functions are accessed by using the stylus. Everything is nicely laid out and easy to access, so it won’t take anyone long to figure out how to play the game effectively. A Sidekick Mode exists where a friend can control created objects with a Wii-Mote. I’m not sure how much fun this would be, as the real appeal of the game is to play with the magic notebook. Other than the local sidekick mode, there is not much in the way of multi-player goodness outside of the Object Editor, which you can use to take existing items and create new ones. These creations can be shared online via the Nintendo network. Likewise, you can download new creations and try them out in any of the levels that you have unlocked.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is really a great game for kids. Whether they are old enough to play on their own, or you decide to play together – it is a great way for them to practice their problem-solving skills and they’ll be happy to find this under the tree. As an adult, I’m not sure how much fun most people would have. I think it all depends on your mind-set: if you’re looking for mind-boggling puzzles, this isn’t for you. However, if you are seeking to unleash your creativity on a sandbox world where things are fairly easy to solve, then you’ll definitely love this game.