Testing your imagination, but not your patience.
‘The simplest solutions are often the best ones’. If there’s ever been a puzzle game which goes against that famous maxim more than Scribblenauts Unlimited then we haven’t played it. This sandbox experience is bursting with easy-to-grasp puzzles ranging from giving something to an orphan to make her happy to crafting a mech suitable for a firefighter to fight back against an invading zombie horde.
Every solution involves players utilising the protagonist’s magical notebook which boasts the uncanny ability to bring anything players imagine into being, apart from anything remotely naughty or trademarked. Adding anything into the world is simply a case of clicking the playable character, selecting add object and typing in the name of the item you want. There’s even a handy-dandy spell checker in there so you can even scroll down to select the option you wanted. Add certain adjectives like ‘Pink’ or ‘Evil’ in front of the verb and an item appears resembling the desired effect. This admittedly brilliant concept is one that creator 5th Cell has struggled to work into well-rounded game experience multiple times, but with Scribblenauts Unlimited the Washington developer has finally pulled it off.
Cast once again as Maxwell, players must venture around an open world helping NPCs, objects and even buildings achieve their fondest wishes in order to add more golden starites to the character’s tally, so he can unlock more parts of the world and save his imprisoned sister. Challenges are either quick single solution deals, with success granting a a single star shard, whereas others come in the sequential variety and offer up an entire star. It is possible to label the campaign as a ‘narrative-driven experience’, but like a lot of sandbox games this additional context is little more than lip service to provide a workable structure to guage a player’s progress an unlock a slice of the map one at a time.
One area sees players constructing new art pieces for a museum falling into disrepair, whereas the next sees you solving problems at space shuttle launch site. This is the kind of family friendly experience which is suitable for all age ranges and genre preferences with ample opportunities for players to express their bizarre wishes. Want to see what happens when you spawn in a slave with George Washington? Give it a go. How about watching a fight between a T-Rex and God? Not a problem, just be sure to watch the ensuing fight.
The world is 2D, the visuals are basic and there’s no voiced dialogue, but that doesn’t stop Scribblenauts Unlimited being a very atmospheric and friendly experience. There’s a charm to proceedings which will just make you smile, much like the original LEGO Star Wars and Nintendo’s Animal Crossing.
The plentiful number of puzzles rarely if ever push your grey matter to breaking point with clues usually pasted in the objective dialogue, but that doesn’t stop you being rewarded if you operate outside the box even a little. For instance one puzzle involved us helping a robber steal a diamond while in the sight line of a nearby police officer. Now we could have just spawned in a character to distract the lawman, but instead we simply added the ‘lazy’ adjective to the police officer and he instantly fell asleep allowing the pilfering penguin to steal the glittering spoils unnoticed. Whereas for the next puzzle involved helping a scout earn his firefighting merit badge by extinguishing a fire lashing against a crashtest dummy. Now we could’ve just used a hose, but instead we spawned in a Spitting Camel to put out the fire and it actually worked.
Loosening of the solution criteria in Scribblenauts such as this can lead to some strange results, like giving a mage a sniper rifle to fight a dragon even though the objective specifically instructed giving him a magic-powered weapon, but then we still got the starite for our work, which for us was proof that this isn’t an experience which takes itself at all seriously. That said, the moments where you go for the strangest solutions usually provide the most gratification. This freeform approach is a double-edged sword as it makes Scribblenauts Unlimited immensely approchable but ultimately samey and after a couple of hours of solving these simple puzzles it’s hard not to yearn for challenges that boast a bit more depth or focus. It’s easy to find yourself using the same solutions time and time again, and the the game has no method to really punish players for that lack of imagination. That said, this isn’t really an experience designed for multiple hours worth of play, instead it’s designed for occasional sessions of thirty minutes or less to flex your creativity muscle, and if you play this title in that manner you’ll find it much more enjoyable.
As far as all the different versions of this multi-format title go, the PC version is easily the most impressive. Unsurprisingly for such a simplistic style Scribblenauts Unlimited scales really well. Even our three year-old HP netbook didn’t struggle on the most basic visual settings, and the addition of Steamworks support for the item creator means that you can easily import in any of the thousands of community creations out there. As you’d expect most of these creations would anger any of the copyright devils out there, but it’s cool to see what happens when one of Aliens’ xenomorphs fight it out with Dragonball Z’s Frieza. Of the 15,000 odd new creations easily uploaded to Steambox, you’re bound to find at least few creations that will impress and if you don’t it’s easy enough to create your own using the Item Creator which boasts rudimentary painting and scripting tools, so you can map out how your creation interacts with the world. This toolset is easy to use and surprisingly powerful.
Overall Scribblenauts Unlimited is exactly what you expect it to be, a charming carefree puzzler which isn’t going to tax your brain for too long, but you know what? That’s absolutely fine. There’s more than enough room for enchanting experiences like these to vary up the increasingly conservative games market. Compared to other puzzle games out there 5th Cell’s latest sequel is on the expensive side, priced at £22.99, but if you’re looking for a carefree, relaxing experience which’ll stretch your imagination without testing your patience, Scribblenauts Unlimited is exactly what you’re looking for.
An imaginative puzzler which emphasises invention over frustration.
Tags: Scribblenauts Unlimited
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