I haven’t played Scribblenauts since the original, but the series has always intrigued me with the level of creative power it gives to the player. Being able to summon just about anything you can imagine is a tall task, but one that the latest entry in the series delivers on, while simultaneously adding tons of content from the DC Comics universe. While the concept is compelling, it’s weighed down by the presentation, resulting in a fun but flawed experience.
Unmasked features series mainstay Maxwell, a boy who can create anything by writing it in his magic notebook. Along with sister Lily, who can teleport using her magic globe, Maxwell is sucked into the universe of DC Comics, losing their power-granting Starites in the process. Maxwell must traverse the different areas of the game, using his ability to collect the Starites before they fall into the wrong hands.
The basic mechanics of the game are fairly simple. In order to accomplish objectives, Maxwell uses his notebook to create objects, creatures, or just about anything else. Helping people grants reputation points, which are used to unlock subsequent areas in the game. Fewer reputation points are awarded for re-using words twice in an area, so the game encourages creativity as much as possible.
Each area boils down to doing one of two things – helping people randomly, or completing the main story objective. Regardless of my intent, I would up doing a lot of the former – story missions are not marked on a map of any sort, and the only way to find them was to wander aimlessly until I stumbled across them. Helping people is fun and all, but it gets tiresome wandering the same area looking for the story mission.
Most the side activities involve creating objects for people, although some require more creative thinking. Scribblenauts shines in its ability to let you create almost anything imaginable, including adding adjectives to objects. During my time with the game I can’t recall a single instance where I wasn’t able to produce what I was thinking of.
The game also delivers on its DC license. There are tons of characters here, and often in several different variations. Whether you want first appearance Superman, regular Superman or the Bizarro variation, they’re all here. I’m not a huge comics fan myself, but when I asked friends who are for random, obscure characters, the game was able to produce everything they suggested. Fortunately for people like me, Scribblenauts Unmasked also has a sort of encyclopedia where players can browse DC characters and learn more about them, so finding someone to summon was never an issue.
While the game play is fun, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Summoned objects have a nasty habit of spawning in walls and other objects, which was frustrating when I was under attack and trying to create a weapon to defend myself. Occasionally Mr. Mxyzptlk pops in as players are entering an area, challenging them with double reputation points if they accept certain restrictions, such as no adjectives or words that begin with a certain letter. While I applaud the efforts to stimulate creativity, in some instances the restraints of the challenge made certain objectives impossible to complete, forcing me to leave and re-enter an area. One of the most annoying game play issues was with characters that I summoned. More than once they turned on me, and it wasn’t much fun when Batgirl started attacking me after I called on her to assist Batman.
Visually the game has a cute style to it, and for whatever reason I found the little DC characters especially fun. All of the action takes place on the lower screen, and in truth the only time the game really uses 3D is the opening title screen. Performance became an issue as more objects entered the screen, at times slowing the frame-rate and other times bringing it to a screeching halt. The music is appropriately superhero-ish, and fits the feel of the rest of the game nicely.
Scribblenauts Unmasked is a tough game to score. On the one hand I love the open nature of it, and the game is at its best when you’re encountering something crazy like a “walking angry cat-shooting fig tree”. Unfortunately, some of that spirit started to fade as I was wandering around, hoping to find an objective mission. Fans of the DC universe will have fun with all of the possibilities, and anyone else willing to overlook some game play snags can have fun here. Ultimately though, the mechanical and presentation issues keep the game from shining as brightly as it could.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.