Maxwell is a little boy with the ability to create anything he wants by writing it in a magic notebook. He also has a twin sister named Lily that can travel anywhere thanks to a magical globe and together he and Lily venture to the DC Universe for some adventure. Upon their arrival the globe is shattered and it’s up to Maxwell to befriend DC heroes and find “starites” that will repair the globe and send him and his sister home.
This was my first time playing a Scribblenauts game and one of the very first things I was tasked with was finding a doctor to help Lily, who was injured on the trip to Gotham City. So did I type in “doctor”? Of course not, this is a DC game, so I called upon the best doctor I could think of from the DC Universe, Doctor Fate. Not only did Doctor Fate heal Maxwell’s twin sister, but he then went to town beating the living heck out of an invisible Deadshot lurking in the shadows. Batman arrived and offered his help too before taking Lily back to the Batcave while I was left in charge of Gotham. My first mission? Little Maxwell was asked to escort serial killer Victor Zsasz to the the roof of the GCPD and the options for how to get him there were limitless. I could lasso him, chain him up, fly him in a helicopter, ride a unicorn, summon Lovecraft’s monster C’Thulu… anything. And that’s Scribblenauts in a nutshell.
The bulk of the gameplay is made-up of fetching an object and bringing it from point A to point B or guessing what another character is thinking of based on a few context clues. It’s a game that relies heavily on your creativity, imagination, and the game’s impressive built-in dictionary that knows exactly what you’re talking about no matter how ridiculous it may be. And now that there are over 2,000 DCU characters and objects added to the dictionary your options are even more vast than the last game, which had the subtitle “Unlimited.”
Each level is designed after a popular DC Comics location like Gotham City, Arkham Asylum, Metropolis, Oa, Atlantis, etc. etc. These place are populated by a variety of characters with alert markers above their heads that, when clicked, trigger a speech bubble explaining that person’s unique predicament. More often than not, the key words you should pay attention to are highlighted so it’s easy to guess what needs to be created using the notebook. After completing such a side quest you’re rewarded with reputation points for that particular location. These points can then be exchanged for DC Character costumes that Maxwell can wear to gain enormous power, unlock new levels to advance the story, or unlock super powers for you to give your creations in the Hero Creator. You’ll have to do quite a few of these random side-quests in order to progress in the game because only when you have purchased all levels and retrieved every starite will you be able to finish the game.
These levels I speak of are adorably represented and feature quite a few characteristics that comic fans will be quick to notice, but they are all quite small. Typically these side-scrolling locations consist of about three floors of space in which characters pace back and forth waiting to give out side quests and you’ll complete all of a level’s quests within ten minutes or so, easily. After that you’ll need even more reputation points to proceed in the game and that’ll require you to either exit out and reload the stage with even more side quests or travel some place else entirely. This can get a bit tiresome and I wish that the stages were larger and more populated. Some greater interactivity would’ve also gone a long way. These are such imaginative places with rich histories from 60+ years of stories behind them so it would been nice to have more interaction than just clicking to go up and down stairs or elevators. One thing that would certainly give this video game a higher replay value would be a level creator. If you can customize heroes and objects, stages seem like the next logical step. Another thing that should be noted about the level design is the music, which is cheerful to a fault. When Lois and Jimmy are strapped to explosive barrels the score should really change to fit that situation. Maybe not the panic-attack-inducing sound of Sonic the Hedgehog drowning but something will a little more intensity. Gameplay itself is quite easy, as I said, but the developers definitely added a cool way to increase the difficulty with the Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk. After collecting the starite from a stage and returning you’ll be confronted by Mr. Mxzyptlk who offers a challenge for double the reputation points. This challenge could be anything from “Only use adjectives starting with the letter N” or “Only create superheroes” or “You can’t create objects.” You’ll really rack your brain during side quests if you go this route so if you’re looking for a challenge I highly recommend you take the imp up on his offer. However, even if you don’t increase the difficulty there will still be times in which this simple game will get the best of you. You’ll be so busy trying to think of something clever to write in your notebook that you’ll forget that Maxwell is being struck by Omega Beams or bitten by angry woodland creatures. When Maxwell dies, you’re given the option to spend 25 reputation points or start the level over from the beginning. Either option will strip you of your current abilities (using the adjective “kryptonian” makes the game a breeze) and plant you at the start of the level once again. But if you’re playing a starite mission, an actual story mission filled with character dialogue and large-scale battles between Maxwell and the most feared DC villains, a lost life can become far more frustrating. This is something that will hopefully be fixed in an upcoming patch of some kind, but during these story missions you’ll typically have to click through countless speech bubbles and complete 3 or 4 tasks. But if you’re in the final leg of the boss fight and die? Then you’ll have to restart all the way back at the very beginning of the mission as there are no checkpoints. You’ll then have to click through all of the speech bubbles again because there’s no skipping! This was one of the most annoying aspects of the game, especially since it doesn’t always have to be you who dies in order for a mission to fail. If you’re in a fight alongside Superman and Superman drops, then you lose too. (Note: there were checkpoints during the epic multi-part final battle that involved all of the Justice League) Other problems that could be fixed in the future as the game continues to be updated would be a number of bugs. The story scenes aren’t exactly pre-rendered cut-scenes. All of the little characters need to move into position before delivering their lines and if you created an object that inhibits a character’s movement then the story can’t press forward either. There was also an instance in which sworn enemies Hal Jordan and Sinestro got so caught up fighting each other that I had to totally restart the game.
Lastly, the way that these 2D characters would frequently overlap one another would also become very frustrating. I would need to click on a particular person or item and they would be hidden behind another character that I couldn’t interact with.
Despite those issues I found it to be a really enjoyable game and I firmly believe that for comic book aficionados Scribblenauts Unmasked is a must-buy. Trying to stump the in-game dictionary is the most fun a DC Comics expert can have, really. One of my first attempts at stumping the game was a surprising success since I wanted to play as Matches Malone. There are quite a few pages worth of potential Batman costumes yet no Matches! However, after stumping the game with Batman’s gangster alter-ego I was never able to stump it ever again. I personally lost track of time conjuring up various DC heroes and villains and watching them fight. A quick way to have some really visually stunning entertainment in this game is to call up the various Lantern Corps. Type in “___ Lantern Corps” for all of the major colors and watch as all of these ring-wielders duke it out. It’s awesome.
The expansive in-game dictionary is also quite the educational tool for those enthusiastic comic readers who want to learn more. The game doubles as an extensive library of character bios for heroes as old as Slam Bradley and as new as Calvin Rose. DC encyclopedias aren’t exactly hard to come by and you can find most info on Wikipedia, sure, but this is about as interactive and fun as a comic book encyclopedia can possibly be.
One final aspect that will distract players from the main game in the best way possible is the Hero Creator. Here you’ll be able to mix and match parts from every hero and villain from the extensive 2000 character catalog and you’ll also be able to change the shape, size, and color of all those parts as well. Want to add some Marvel characters to the game? What about Star Wars? Historical figures? That’s all entirely possible if you customize enough. Even more amazing is that you can choose the audio you want the character to have (make them sound like a goat!), adjust their stats such as health, and you can give them every single super power in existence if you so choose! A really terrific thing about this mode is that while kids under 10 might not have be proficient enough with their vocab or reading skills to play the story mode of Scribblenauts without your help, they will be able to play with the Hero Creator for hours on end.
If you’re someone who loves customization in their games then you can’t miss Scribblenauts: Unmasked. But if you’re not too interested in bringing every DC character to life or having fun creating your own characters then you likely won’t find much replay value here. Once the main story is complete you’ll have the option to continue playing with the goal of unlocking all of the super powers and costumes so that you can make even more characters, but unless you like to develop heroes to show off you’ll be ready to move on to something else after the credits roll.
- Over 2,000 DC characters and items to create
- Comic book experts will lose hours trying to stump the game’s dictionary
- Cute, imaginative, and funny
- Hero creator customization is loads of fun
- Relaxing for adults
- Educational for kids– great way to build their vocabulary
- Very short — around 10 hours of gameplay
- Needs checkpoints and the ability to skip scenes
- Random side quests can be repetitive
- Trying to click on characters/items when they overlap each other is frustrating
- Could use more interactive, larger levels
- Hero creator can only be accessed from the batcave
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure is available now for the Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, and PC. This review is based on the PC version.