When I was a child, I was a pretty damn imaginative person. I’d dream up worlds that would come to live around me. Fantastic ones. Much like Scribblenaut’s own Maxwell, I would carry around notebooks and write down ideas that I thought up. Because of this I strike sort of a resonance with 5th Cell’s third entry in the creative puzzle series Scribblenauts Unlimited. If creativity and experimentation are qualities you find prominent in yourself, this game might pique your interest, if not for a little while.
Scribblenauts originated on the Nintendo DS as an extremely ambitious game that was fun, if not flawed. In fact, it was one of the first games I reviewed professionally. The idea of infinite creative ability was inticing, albeit limiting in that game. It still made for a fun experience.
Since then, Scribblenauts evolved into an entire franchise. This small title continues to be self-aware of its own ambitions, while still pushing itself further and further. Unlimited, as if the title alluded to it at all, is the most ambitious one to date. It increases the scope of the game, adds tons of new creations, and much more. It nails everything it does on top of it.
Unlimited adds a story that injects a bit of character to the game, versus previous Scribblenauts games which just threw you in without exposition. Maxwell and his sister Lily are the son and daughter of the worlds greatest explorers (along with their 41 siblings, the parents got busy). The two characters were lazy delinquents and in an effort to get them off the couch, their parents bestowed Lily with a magic globe that could teleport her to any place in the world. To Maxwell they gave a notebook that brings anything written in it to life. Obviously, the duo decide to cause mayhem with their unbelievably powerful magic relics. That is, until they run into a magic old man who they cross. He casts a spell on Lily that will turn her to stone unless Maxwell changes his life for the better. The only way to save her is to perform good deeds all over the world. So the journey begins.
This third entry is very much a puzzle game like the previous games, but takes an entirely different route that is extremely refreshing. Instead of entering designated puzzles, players roam in an open world environment. Each individual area that opens up on the games open world map lets players transport to a themed level. Each level is bustling with activity as NPCs move about. Players then find those in need of help with built in ‘Starite vision’. The goal is to help out as many patrons as possible, after which you collect Starites which advance the story and unlock new areas.
While you are in these open levels, you are free to create and destroy whatever you’d like. This and the openness of the levels ensures that the game doesn’t demand ridiculously tight movement in a closed space to complete specific puzzles. The entire world is opened up. This makes Unlimited a much more relaxing experience, and a more streamlined one. Close placement of objectives makes the game very fast paced (in comparison to other games in this series, and other puzzle games in general). Unlimited doesn’t mess around and lays objectives out straight up. Plenty of level options means you won’t run out of puzzles anytime soon as well.
The only problem with this is that with its streamlined nature, and the layout of levels (often objective after objective), missions are often annoyingly shallow. Most of the game will just amount to you summoning one thing to suit whatever it says to do on screen. Previous Scribblenauts games had entire physics puzzles that, while I admit weren’t full of issues, were still fun, and mixed up the puzzle variety. Unfortunately, those missions aren’t present in Unlimited. Variety comes down to simple summoning puzzles, and “quests” which give full starites (versus the regular starite piece), when completed, and are always simply a quick series of related summoning puzzles.
Due to this limitation, Scribblenauts never really evolves. I wasn’t more enthusiastic playing it 6 hours in than I was when I had just started. I felt more or less the same. Though I was still enjoying myself. One can look beyond the simplicity, because focusing on it undermines the entire point of Scribblenauts.
Unlimited is an unbelievably easy game that never evolves, sure, but the appeal is making it your effort as a player to make it interesting. The original Scribblenauts only had basic conjuring that created basic things. In Unlimited, players can summon a huge pink evil garden hose, a friendly funny Cthulhu, or a flying rideable hipster snake. Adjectives are the focus of Unlimited, as far as evolution as a series. In that respect, coming up with the silliest solutions to simple problems becomes the main objective of what would otherwise be a game that didn’t do a whole lot.
Don’t get me wrong, Scribblenauts is an honest to god improvement over any other Scribblenauts game. It looks great, it controls great (especially with the mouse as the primary mode of function), and it feels really good to play. It offers a lot of freedom that other games in the series did not. What the player does with those freedoms will decide how fun Scribblenauts is to them. It makes you work for your fun, but it delivers in abundance. The game is brimming with character and charm.
Those who play on PC get a number of distinct advantages, as of course this game launched on the Steam platform alongside the Wii U and 3DS. Steam players pay half the price for the game, and are given the accuracy and graphics (not that Unlimited is a particularly taxing game graphically) of a computer mouse and monitor, as well as the Steam Workshop. The latter of those things is a major reason why the PC version of Unlimited is the definitive version. Players from around the world can create custom objects within the game’s detailed editor and then upload them to the workshop for anyone to download anywhere and use in their game seamlessly. Think Spore’s online community. The trade off is loss of a local multiplayer mode, and inclusion of Nintendo branded characters (which honestly have fan made mirrors in the Steam Workshop).
Scribblenauts Unlimited is a fun game by any stretch of the word. But it makes you work for it. It is an evolution of the franchise, and how many laughs and good times you have with it is dependent solely on how much effort you’d like to put in. For that reason, it isn’t for everyone, but it still has a considerably wide appeal as a game. Before investing, just be mindful of what you are investing in – a puzzle game that doesn’t evolve much, but still remains intriguing. If you have the ability, check out the Steam version, unless you are absolutely starved for games to play on Nintendo’s new console, PC is the way to go this time. As a channel for imaginitive creators, Scribblenauts Unlimited is priceless. As a game, it’s pretty dang good too.