Huge selection of objects to summon; hilarious challenges to solve; robust object editor for when you grow tired of the main quest; off-TV play
Gameplay is one-note; each mission is effectively the same; not quite as fun if you don't have others around to watch
What would you do if you could conjure up anything you wished? Would you use your powers to help those in need? Or would you wield them for your own perverse satisfaction, terrorizing others like some twisted, malevolent genie? You’ll be faced with this choice often in Scribblenauts Unlimited, the third installment in 5th Cell’s popular new franchise (and the first to grace a home console). Like previous Scribblenauts games, Unlimited gives you the power to summon just about anything you can think of by typing it out in your magical notebook, using each object’s unique properties to assist (or torment) the denizens of the world as you see fit. While this may not sound all that different from the previous two entries, Unlimited also brings with it a handful of new ideas and refinements to the series’ gameplay, making it the best Scribblenauts title yet, and the perfect starting point for the uninitiated.
Despite the moral underpinnings of its premise, there are no real consequences to your misdeeds in Scribblenauts Unlimited– the worst that could happen is a quest giver accidentally perishes during one of your pranks (in a comical poof of smoke, no less), preventing you from receiving their Starite shard (the special relics you’ll be collecting throughout the course of your journey). But even this has no real bearing on the gameplay; you’re free to “reset” each area to its original state at any point in the game, restoring any deceased characters– along with the problems they need you to solve– while maintaining all of the Starites you had up to that point acquired. This gives Unlimited a very toy box-like feel, as you can forgo the actual challenges and just tinker around with your notebook as long as you please. Much of the game’s fun, then, comes from summoning the most outlandish objects you can think of, and the developers at 5th Cell seem to encourage this by including all manner of horrors, from literary (like the popular standby, Cthulhu) to mythological (like the kraken), for you to unleash upon the world.
Even if your moral compass unshakably points you in the direction of good and you play the game as it was intended, Unlimited still offers up plenty of humorous moments for you to enjoy, as well as plenty of opportunities to test your creativity. The tasks you’ll be charged with range from the mundane, like rescuing a cat out of a tree, to the hilarious, like helping a shady-looking penguin steal a diamond from a museum. Each one can be resolved in a number of different ways, some more obvious than others– in the cat puzzle, for instance, you can summon a fireman to retrieve the hapless feline, but if you’re feeling a bit more creative, you can choose to equip yourself with a beaver and chop the tree down yourself. There are countless other problems for you to solve, all of which are strung together by a new, interconnected overworld that gradually opens up as you collect Starite pieces. The sheer number of challenges in the game ensures that you’ll be unlocking new areas of the world map at a brisk pace, giving you something new to see and do each time you settle in for a gaming session.
The move to a home console is perhaps the biggest boon for the series, as the larger display means you can now share the experience with other people. While the game is perfectly enjoyable on your own, it becomes even more satisfying if you have a friend or sibling around to join in on the fun, shouting out solutions and watching as their suggestions affect the world, for good or ill. And thanks to the GamePad’s dedicated touch screen, which streams the game to the controller simultaneously (and allows for off-TV play when you’re in the mood for a quick gaming session), everyone in the room will have a view of the action. Couple this with the robust new object editor, which allows the creatively inclined to tweak existing objects right down to their very scripting and share them with other players around the world, plus the standard Miiverse integration inherent in all Wii U titles, and you’ll always have a chance to show off your handiwork.
Still, as fun as it is to just play around with Maxwell’s notebook, this unbridled freedom proves to be something of a double-edged sword for Scribblenauts Unlimited. You’ll quickly notice that the challenges strewn about the game’s world all boil down to summoning a specific (and often explicitly hinted) object, which undermines the range of choices at your disposal. With such little variety in the actual gameplay, many will likely grow bored of its overarching quest long before they see it to the end. The aforementioned object editor exists partly to rectify this, giving players something to do outside of the game proper, but this, likewise, is a victim of its own ambitions. Only the most dedicated users will be able to wade through the editor’s vast array of options, and even if you are able to muster up the patience to tinker around with it, there’s ultimately no reason to create your own objects when the countless existing ones will more than suffice for your adventure.
That said, the game’s strengths more than make up for its few failings. Scribblenauts Unlimited is a great installment in the burgeoning series, and one that all Wii U owners, especially those with a penchant for humor and creativity, should check out. The gameplay is a tad one-dimensional, with each challenge amounting to little more than summoning a specific object, but there are plenty of humorous moments to keep you engaged in the experience, especially if you have someone around to share them with.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.