Great use of license; strong sense of humor; fun storyline
Repetitive gameplay; lack of 3D visuals
In 2013, two very unique comic book/video game mash-ups were released on Nintendo systems. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes gave the heroes of Marvel Comics a LEGO makeover, and the result was one of my personal favorite games of the year. Flying a little more under the radar, however, was another interesting combination: Scribblenauts and the DC Universe. When Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure was first announced, I knew that the game was brimming with potential. Giving Maxwell the ability to bring characters and items from the DC Universe to life just might have been the perfect way to bring something new to the Scribblenauts franchise. I was happy to discover that I was right.
Scribblenauts Unmasked starts with Maxwell and Lily getting pulled into a DC comic book. Upon arrival, they discover that Maxwell’s Doppelganger is working alongside the villains of the DC Universe and attempting to snag starites to cause trouble. Maxwell is still the game’s main character, but he’ll have to ally himself with the DC Universe’s greatest heroes in order to save the day. Like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Scribblenauts Unmasked revels in bringing in obscure and minor characters. If you can think of a character or item from DC Comics lore, Maxwell can summon them. Type in “Batman” and tons of variants beyond the traditional become available. Even the most seemingly random and forgotten characters are there inside the game, from G’nort to Sugar and Spike. And if you aren’t well versed in DC lore, the game’s Batcomputer function allows players to look up backstory on all of the various characters and items in the game, as well.
It’s impressive enough that developer 5th Cell has included so many famous (and less famous) faces in the game, but what’s more impressive is how faithfully the characters are reproduced. When Maxwell teams up with Robin, DC fans will immediately know whether this is Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, or Damian Wayne under the domino mask. When Maxwell questions whether the Flash is Wally West or Barry Allen, he deciphers it a second later from a well-written piece of dialogue. When Maxwell teams up with Batgirl… well, let’s just say that the developer even found a fun way to resolve a part of the character’s continuity. And that’s easily the greatest strength of Scribblenauts Unmasked: 5th Cell clearly has a strong love of the source material, and it takes full advantage of it at every possible opportunity.
While Scribblenauts Unmasked brings some fresh faces to the formula, unfortunately the title has done little to fix the problems of its predecessors. Sometimes, figuring out exactly what you’re meant to come up with can be a chore. You might think you know how to solve a puzzle, but the game can have other ideas. You really are limited to your imagination, and that can prove difficult at times. The game also limits your progression by making new areas unlockable based on accumulated points. While it’s fun exploring Metropolis and helping people, sometimes you really are ready to move on, and you just don’t have the points to spend. Not to mention the fact that you’ll find that many puzzles repeat themselves. It’s funny delivering donuts to the game’s developers, but the second or third time it’s a bit tedious. The DC license helps to mask the fact that the Scribblenauts formula seems to be getting a tiny bit stale; but only just barely. I’m not sure that 5th Cell can simply churn out new Scribblenauts games with new licenses applied in the future.
While Scribblenauts Unmasked lends itself well to the handheld format, it’s disappointing to see yet another 3DS title that completely ignores the system’s 3D abilities. Outside the title screen and opening and closing cinematics, the game doesn’t use the system’s 3D whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is a problem I foresaw when Nintendo announced the 2DS system. I’m worried that third party developers will continue to ignore this option as time goes on.
Scribblenauts Unmasked is a fun title. It takes the best elements of the series and combines them with the DC Universe in a way that feels natural and fun. Developer 5th Cell has painstakingly mined the DC Universe and delivered a game that really takes advantage of the license. While the title never quite reaches the heights of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, or Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition, Scribblenauts Unmasked is definitely a unique take on the characters that fans of the DC Universe should certainly take a look at.