Review: Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure (Wii U)
Maxwell is back again, this time in the DC Universe. This is both an awesome blessing, but also a curse to the Scribblenauts franchise.
For those not in the know, Scribblenauts stars a young boy named Maxwell. Armed with his magical notebook, Maxwell can conjure just about any object you can think of out of thin air, he can also apply adjectives to these objects. So say if you wanted an “angry stupid tiny reverend”, you got it. It is this power that allows the creators of Scribblenauts, 5th Cell, to seamlessly integrate Maxwell into the DC Universe.
Maxwell’s sister Lily owns a magic Globe that allows her to travel anywhere in the known universe, combining this power with Maxwell’s notebook, the two siblings quickly find themselves in Gotham City, and immediately meet up with Batman, who does not trust Maxwell and Lily immediately, but ultimately decides he has no choice, as Gotham, as well as many other locations in the DC Universe, are facing immediate peril from Maxwell’s foe, Doppelganger.
It is from here where the fun, and frustration begins. Maxwell is able to acquire “reputation points”, these come from using new words, completing tasks and finding Starites, the magical stars that grant power to Lily’s globe. These reputation points are used to unlock costumes for Maxwell, new areas to explore, as well as superpowers contained in the Hero Creator. Many of the tasks you complete in Scribblenauts Unmasked are randomly generated, unlike Scribblenauts Unlimited.
This is a mixed bag though, as the tasks in Scribblenauts Unlimited made sense, and could be solved multiple ways. In Scribblenauts Unmasked however, it feels as though despite the randomness of the tasks, there appears to be only one way to complete the task. As an example, a snake charmer told me his picnic was ruined, he had two giant insects floating around them, so I caged them. The snake charmer was not impressed, so I gave him a snake for his charming abilities, that didn’t fix the picnic, neither did food. It wasn’t until I actually killed the caged insects that he was happy. Scribblenauts is supposed to be about imagination, tasks like this clearly kill all aspects of that. Also, why am I fixing a snake charmer’s picnic in Gotham City? Many people will pick this up and hope for a DC style superhero adventure, the random tasks detract from that immensely.
On top of this, many objects, heroes and villains alike sometimes don’t behave how you’d like them to. I was asked to defeat a Villain without any weaponry, so I summoned Superman to take down my foe for me, instead of assisting me, he just stood there, joining in the spectatorship of my face being beaten to a pulp by the bad guy. Considering the villain had more health than I did, it took me three deaths to beat him, costing me precious reputation points. The system is a problem with the Scribblenauts franchise, it sounds awesome in theory, but falls short of the expectations many gamers are likely to put onto it.
To add a twist (and another frustration) to the randomness of the game, Mxyzptlk occasionally appears to give you the opportunity to earn double the reputation points as normal if you follow his rules. Sometimes you will not be allowed to use weapons, but adjectives are ok, other times you are only allowed to use words starting with the letter C. Though optional, it’s hard to resist double reputation points, and can add a high degree of challenge to the game.
Despite some of its shortcomings, the DC fan service is immense. Type in Superman, and the game then gives you 16 different options to choose from, including Superman Beyond and Man of Steel. Though you would expect the likes of Superman, The Joker and Commissioner Gordon to be in the game, a random pick off of Wikipedia’s list of DC characters resulted in the discovery that the likes of Fastball and Tsunami are in the game. Though people like Scoopshovel and Zack Nolan are not in the game, but I admit that’s probably taking the DC franchise a bit too far, and doesn’t detract from the game. Wikipedia aside, the game includes a Batcompter that showcases all 2,048 included DC heroes, villains and objects. The objects also allow you to ditch the usual jet pack usually saved for Maxwell’s flying and replace it with either Batman’s, Adam Strange’s or Agent Liberty’s jet packs. The Batcomputer also shows detailed descriptions of all the DC objects that are included in the game, even a detailed description on why “Vampire Batman” is a thing.
The object creator returns on the Wii U, with it now being replaced by the Hero Creator. Here you can create yourself a hero out of literally anything you want, want a dog with Cyborg’s arms and Wonder Woman’s legs? You got it! You can also set properties for your hero, giving them superpowers from the game, as well as what it sounds like, what it’s scared of, how heavy it is, and if it shoots projectiles. It’s pretty creative, and the ability to share your creations online, while downloading other people’s creations is a nice touch.
Scribblenauts Unmasked is an ambitious project from the people at 5th Cell, who to their credit are always trying to change up the formula. Adding the DC Universe was a stroke of genius, though the randomness of the tasks involved in the areas only leads to frustration, and makes me want to throw Scribblenauts Unlimited back in, as ultimately that was the better game. Though throwing in an actual wolverine to fight Batman will always be funny, Scribblenauts Unmasked in my opinion only applies to Scribblenauts fans and DC fans alike, this one is not for newcomers.