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Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) artwork

Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) review

"That’s about as nasty as the game will let you get. If you try to toss potentially offensive nouns into the mix, or if you try to use “sexy” or even “bloody” as an adjective, you won’t have any luck. The game is mostly G-rated, and really that’s just fine. It helps make things all the funnier when you find unlikely combinations and engineer humorous outcomes."

I clearly have the maturity of a 10-year-old boy, because I find myself giggling quite a lot when I play Scribblenauts Unlimited. That’s not to suggest that the game’s premise or scenarios are inherently funny (though certainly there are quite a few moments of intentional humor). Instead, it’s because I keep creating farting animals.

As Scribblenauts Unlimited begins, a boy named Maxwell receives a magical book from his father. Maxwell is can write in the book with a special pen and in most cases, something will magically materialize out of thin air. For example, he might write “dog” and when he finishes writing, a loveable canine will suddenly appear in front of him.

Scribblenauts Unlimited asset

With this wonderful gift at his disposal, Maxwell sets out with his sister on an adventure that is meant to test their maturity. The two have not traveled far when they meet with a strange man who asks if they have any food to spare. Maxwell conjures up an apple for their new acquaintance, which wouldn’t be bad except that the mischievous young lad happens to make the apple ‘rotten’ with a single ill-advised adjective. Disgusted by the dirty trick, the man casts a spell on Maxwell’s sister that begins slowly turning her to stone. The only way to set things right is to obtain magical items called starite by using the book’s magical powers to help strangers in need.

Do unto others as you would have done to you, the golden rule says. Really, Maxwell should have known better than to play such a nasty trick.

Saving his sister will not prove a simple task, Maxwell soon learns. He must advance slowly across a cheery world map, entering new areas and finding strangers who are facing predicaments. Early on, for instance, he will encounter a girl whose cat has become stuck in a tree. One obvious solution is to build a ladder and climb up to the cat, though there are alternatives. Dropping a dog on the top of the tree will cause the cat to leap safely to the ground, which is an equally favorable result. There likely are all kinds of solutions, really. The beauty of Scribblenauts Unlimited is that it so often presents you with scenarios that can be solved in a variety of ways.

As someone who played Super Scribblenauts rather extensively when it arrived on the DS, I had an advantage over the newcomer to the series who might start by playing Scribblenauts Unlimited. I’d learned how puzzles generally work within the franchise, and I was ready to look at situations from odd angles. That’s an important skill to have, but it seems to me that this time around, the going is also easier no matter what. If you’re stuck on a challenge that requires multiple steps, you can tap for hints once a certain amount of time elapses--with no apparent penalty--and failing one of the tougher assignments rarely sets you back very far. A lot of the challenges also let you cheaply advance through them using a few of the same strategies, as well. Tough monsters can often be made less menacing if you tap them and add “vegetarian” to their description, or you can sometimes make something wink out of sight altogether just by adding the “nonexistent” adjective to the mix. Sometimes, the game puts restrictions on you that prevent the use of certain words, but you still have thousands of words at your disposal and such limitations hardly matter.

Scribblenauts Unlimited asset

I’m not sure that the reduced difficulty is a bad development for the series, honestly. There are still some challenging puzzles, but now most of them are easy enough that you’re never forced to linger too long on one just for the sake of completion. The developers have wisely realized that the real fun comes from creative use of the game’s lexicon.

In my introduction, I mentioned farting animals. If you’d like to reproduce my childish behavior, the trick is to use “flatulent” as an adjective. I tried “farting” and it doesn’t work. You have to rely on verbosity. Then you’ll hear a comical fart sound every several seconds and an icon appears to let you know that nasty odors are coming from a posterior in the vicinity. That’s about as nasty as the game will let you get. If you try to toss potentially offensive nouns into the mix, or if you try to use “sexy” or even “bloody” as an adjective, you won’t have any luck. The game is mostly G-rated, and really that’s just fine. It helps make things all the funnier when you find unlikely combinations and engineer humorous outcomes.

Besides helping strangers in exchange for quick starites or shards (ten shards make up a proper starite), you can also obtain the latter by satisfying secret requirements that actually aren’t secret at all. Pause the game and you’ll be able to access a menu that provides hints about different item combinations which may yield interesting results and a shard as your reward. There are dozens upon dozens of such combinations, and odds are very good that you will find only a minority of them by accident. Some of the solutions required are actually quite devious, even with hints available, so you could be busy long after the credits roll.

Scribblenauts Unlimited asset

It’s also possible to use an editor to create your own special objects or to modify existing ones. Then you can upload them so that other people can admire your ingenuity. I went online and searched for “dog,” then found that someone had created an “attack dog” that wears combat boots and a helmet. It was pretty cool. There’s a robust editor in case you want to get truly creative, so I imagine there are all kinds of awesome custom items just waiting to be downloaded or created (and further modified).

The real question you might have as you play the game is why it was even released for Wii U. Certainly, it works just fine on the hardware… but the use of the television screen really is optional. I started playing with all my attention on the television, but your means of convenient input are all on the gamepad. That’s your interface if you want to move objects, or create items, or whatever else. Everything shows up there just fine and looks beautiful. The artwork is in high definition and also looks great on a large television screen, but that’s mostly only useful if you have other people in the room who want to witness your ingenuity. Those friends can also take control of Maxwell’s creations using Wii Remotes, if you’d like to make a party out of things, but otherwise the television is useless.

Scribblenauts Unlimited is a game for creative people, just like its predecessors were. I am constantly amazed by the variety of experiences that are possible. The coding necessary to make it all possible must have been a nightmare, but everything came together wonderfully. This is the best Scribblenauts title to date, a magical experience that belongs in your permanent game library whether you’re 10 years old or simply 10 at heart.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 02, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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