If I’d have known just how much fun Scribblenauts can be, I would’ve tried the series a long time ago. Scribblenauts Unlimited, the latest installment of the burgeoning franchise, may not look all that different from past Scribblenauts titles (though it is noticeably prettier than the DS incarnations), but it more than makes up for that with the sheer ingenuity– and outlandishness– of its gameplay, which helps prove the merits of the GamePad’s dedicated touch screen.
Like previous Scribblenauts games, Scribblenauts Unlimited challenges you with solving puzzles by conjuring up whatever solution you can think of. Players simply type a noun (be it a person, an item, or a creature) into the game’s object creator and it magically materializes in the world around them. Need to dowse a raging fire? Summon up a water gun or a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Need to document proof of Bigfoot’s existence? A cameraman can snap pictures of the elusive beast. The possibilities are almost only as limited as your imagination (though there are some unfortunate limitations to this system, as my failed attempt to summon a ninja Elvis proved).
New to this particular installment of Scribblenauts is the ability to customize the objects you summon. While Super Scribblenauts introduced the ability to modify a noun with an adjective, which changed its behavior accordingly, Unlimited gives you free rein to play around with the game’s assets. Want to change the color of a particular item? It’s as easy as the tap of an icon. Want to turn that harmless stack of pancakes into a deceptive killing machine? You can actually adjust its properties and scripting (including how other non-playable characters perceive it when it is summoned into the world) with the new object editor. The end result is a game that is even more open-ended than previous titles, encouraging players to experiment with every object combination they can think of.
In fact, this open-ended philosophy even extends into the game world itself. Unlike past Scribblenauts games, which were typically a series of one-off challenges strung together by a thin storyline, Unlimited drops players into a seamless, side-scrolling world which can be traversed at their own leisure. As is to be expected, this world is populated by characters suffering from problems that can only be solved by your powers of conjuration. In the brief demo I played, for example, a lumberjack asked me for assistance in chopping down a tree. Not far from him was a hippie who asked me for assistance in protecting that very same tree. Intrigued by the moral implications of this challenge, I summoned popular standby Cthulhu to chase away the lumberjack. Of course, my decision was horribly shortsighted, and Cthulhu immediately began attacking everyone in the vicinity. I changed his disposition to peaceful and tried a different tactic, summoning a protestor in the hopes of discouraging the lumberjack. Of course, this also failed, but for a completely different reason; rather than chasing off the lumberjack with a nonviolent demonstration, the hippie swiped the protestor’s sign and began whaling on the unsuspecting Cthulhu, who could only cower in fear because of the pacifism I’d imposed on him. With his life gradually whittling away, I returned Cthulhu to his violent ways to kill the hippie and summoned Hercules to keep the beast in check (though he, too, ultimately failed, but that’s another story).
So the appeal of Scribblenauts is largely what you bring to it, but that is precisely why it succeeds so effortlessly. The ability to create and customize objects adds an incredible level of replayability to the title, which is only heightened thanks to the Wii U GamePad. Not only does the controller’s touch screen make the editing process feel natural and intuitive, but the fact that it contains its own dedicated screen means that onlookers can gather around the television and share in fun. In an age where “social gaming” has become something of a popular buzzword among developers and publishers, the ability to get together and laugh at the game gives a whole new meaning to the concept.