Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) – what was the wait?
A game where the only limitation is your imagination sounds impossible, but it’s only the ‘game’ part of that description that’s in question here.
So there we were thinking that today’s review would be finished well in time for Friday, and it turns out that Scribblenauts Unlimited is not out this week at all. In fact it’s now not clear when it’ll be released in the UK or why it’s been delayed. What we can tell you though is that it’s not really worth waiting for.
Scribblenauts Unlimited was a launch title in North America and we’ve had a UK review copy now for a couple of weeks. This suggests to us that whatever alterations are being made they come from a last minute discovery of something that would be deemed offensive in Europe but not in the UK. We’ve no idea what it is though, and heaven knows we’ve been trying all week to make something rude appear in the game.
Not counting Scribblenauts Remix on iOS this is the third major entry in the series, but its main claim to fame is the same as always: Scribblenauts allows you to conjure any object you can imagine into the game world simply by typing its name out. You can’t have proper nouns, trademarked words, or anything rude but other than that there really are almost no restrictions.
By necessity the game takes place in a 2D world of what look like simply animated paper cut-outs. The art design is hugely appealing and the amount of work that’s gone into making sure everything from Cthulhu to a combine harvester can not only be magicked out of thin air but actually operate as you’d expect them to is incredible.
Because this is the third outing for the technology the British English dictionary is nicely refined (it understands everything from a courgette to a boob tube) and you can also use the adjectives and qualifiers introduced in Super Scribblenauts.
So not only can you create a ‘dragon’ you can also create an ‘evil smelly purple zombie dragon’, complete with stink lines and mouldy, but definitely, purple skin. Actually, in just checking that really did work we realised we could make an evil orange as well, which rolls towards its prey as a little thought bubble indicates its malicious intent.
You can create spaceships, flamethrowers, singing goats, robot butlers – literally anything you can imagine. It’s a stunning technical and artistic achievement and once again we tip our hats off to developer 5TH Cell for being insane enough to even attempt it. And once again we only wish they’d actually turned it into a video game while they’re about it.
Scribblenauts has always been much more fun just creating every object you can think of and seeing how they interact with each other and hero Maxwell. The benefit of being on the Wii U is that not only is the game much easier to control on the touchscreen, than it would have been with a joypad, but it means other people can watch what you’re doing on the TV and offer their suggestions.
This is by far the best way to play the game and in its way one of the better examples of just how unique an experiencing playing even existing games can be on the Wii U. Sadly though it’s yet another launch game that makes absolutely no use of the Wii U’s hardware power, as apart from the resolution the visuals are almost identical to how the game looks on the 3DS.
Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) – the only thing you can’t create is gameplay
But that’s not the problem, unless you’ve got a time machine and a cloning machine (yes, both are in the game and they both work too) there’s no way a Scribblenauts game is ever going to be anything other than 2D. The problem is that there’s almost no game here.
In the first Scribblenauts a lot of the levels required you to imagine the items necessary to collect a ‘Starite’ collectible hidden somewhere in the landscape, which was a good idea in theory – except that it meant a jetpack could get you through half the stages without even trying.
Super Scribblenauts tried to force you to think a bit more imaginatively, by introducing more abstract puzzles. But this almost completely removed any action elements, and turned things into a barely interactive parlour game where you had to simply guess the right word to proceed.
Unlimited shakes up the formula again, this time by creating a number of hub worlds filled with different locales where people are wandering around looking for help. But the exact help they need is so obvious you quickly begin to lose interest in aiding them.
If someone wants a friend it doesn’t matter whether you conjure a robot, a dog, or a girlfriend. If someone else needs transportation or their neighbourhood sprucing up the solution is so effortlessly simple it very quickly becomes meaningless.
Although clearly the game wants you to try and think of the most unlikely solution possible you’re not rewarded for the oddity of your selection. At that point it becomes academic how you solve the puzzle, and then academic whether you even bother solving it at all.
The simple truth is that Scribblenauts Unlimited isn’t really a video game. Which doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but it does mean it struggles to justify you spending ￡50 on it. It’s also not very different from the last game and apart from better accommodation for crowds it makes almost no use of the Wii U.
There are a few new features, such as an object editor that gives you finer control over creating cyborg monkeys or explosive egg bikes but it’s fiddly to use and nowhere near as much fun as the main game. You can also unlock a series of unique avatars other than just Maxwell, and play around with a few Nintendo characters (although these cannot be used with most of the wilder objectives, which seems a bit pointless).
We’ve also played the 3DS version which not only looks near identical but plays the same too. In fact the only difference is that it doesn’t have the object editor, but instead StreetPass and SpotPass support. We’ve not seen the PC version, which is handled by original publisher Warner Bros., but it seems to be more or less the same as the Wii U.
Which is a shame because what few changes there are in this version of Scribblenauts they do nothing to turn it from a novelty timewaster into the fully-functioning video game we’ve always wished it would become. In fact if anything it makes things worse.
In Short: The game’s limitless options and boundless enthusiasm have never been so impressive, but it’s further away than ever from fulfilling its potential as an actual video game.
Pros: The object dictionary is immensely impressive and you can spend hours just typing in and trying out words. Playing on a GamePad and TV simultaneously is fun in a crowd.
Cons: The puzzles are hugely simplistic and require almost no thought, with very little impetus to use your imagination. Very few new ideas.
Formats: Wii U and 3DS (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Nintendo/WB Games
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: 6th December 2013
Age Rating: 12
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