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I have the upmost respect towards 5th Cell. The small indie studio has launched two great multimillion-selling franchises with Drawn to Life in 2007 and Scribblenauts in 2009. These games became successful due to their ability to invoke the player’s creativity with god-like impact on the game’s world. That creativity beckons again with Scribblenauts Unlimited, but now also on a home console.
The Scribblenauts games usually just revolve around series protagonist Maxwell getting Starites for no other reason but to finish a level, but Unlimited is the first installment with an actual story behind it. Though the game starts well enough with Maxwell’s sister Lily getting cursed due to his prank on an old man, but the story doesn’t continue until its awful, 10-second long ending. It was a shame because the beginning gave a good origin on Maxwell and how spoiled he really acts, and to have that character development go literally nowhere is really unfortunate.
Like my other Scribblenauts experiences, I start thinking creatively at first but when too many ideas aren’t usable words/adjectives, I just stop and go for more blunt answers. Too many times I was able to cop out and dump a firefighter when there’s a flame to extinguish or write “food” for any food-related problems even though there are hundreds, if not thousands of possibilities. It’s a great novelty to know that a purple, tired, slow, stinky griffon can be used to make a jockey happy, but being too creative doesn’t hold up when “pony” works the same. Especially when there’s a chance that the more ostentatious ideas won’t work.
Scribblenauts’ original idea was to spawn nouns to solve a puzzle while its sequel, Super Scribblenauts, added the ability to use adjectives with those nouns. Unlimited’s evolution to the franchise is its object editor, where you take an existing object, edit it and rename it for you to use in the game. In addition, you can upload them on the Nintendo Network for other players to download, use and edit. It’s more than taking a dog, ripping the legs off, give it wheels and paint it blue - you can change many of its properties (making it electric-resistant, change its movement speed, etc.) and behaviors (i.e. how it acts in front of another particular noun). I was so personally impressed on how deep the customization is that I think younger people who are interested in coding should take a look at this very basic form of the art since it secretly introduces the concepts of “if statements.” Despite my positive experience with the editor, unfortunately I still like strongly about my previous statement concerning thinking creatively. The novelty of my “Honey Boo Boo” wore off when “cow” could have done the same thing, except without the added twenty minutes it took to make it.
When you first start playing the game, it states that you cannot use copywrited materials, however that is not entirely true. 5th Cell and Nintendo teamed up to allow some characters and items from the Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda series. Though Mario, Link, Yoshi and crew were treated with care with accurate sound effects complete with a brilliant Scribblenauts makeover, they are also completely useless. They have no effect to any puzzle, you cannot alter their properties (like make them a zombie) and they don’t react to any non-Nintendo object unless attacked. For instance, I tried to use Princess Peach to kiss a frog to gain a Starite, but she wouldn’t budge so I had to spawn a generic princess to do the job. The characters are a cute addition sure, but there needs to be some purpose to really appreciate it.
Like Super Mario Bros. U, the game streams on both the TV and Gamepad at the same time. This is nice since you have to look down for the most part to use the touchscreen’s keyboard, but it makes the TV’s part actually worthless unless you have an audience helping you out with ideas. While I have no complaints about this because I feel the idea of constantly looking up and down would be to the game's detriment, it does makes me think twice about the premise of a Scribblenauts title on a home console.
The worst bit about the Wii U version of Unlimited is its amount of content versus its cost. For the 7-8 hours to fully complete and a measly 4 hours to beat the story, the Wii U version is a full $60. Compare that to the superior $30 PC version with real keyboard and Steamworks support (and that’s when it’s not during a Steam sale), or the $40 object editor-less 3DS version with a better two-screen experience and portability, it really makes the Wii U version a complete ripoff.
I am saddened to say that I was very let down over Scribblenauts Unlimited. Though I did get bored by the end, I still had fun and appreciated the tens of thousands of individual things 5th Cell engineered for the game, but there was little substance to its great style. In the end though, between Super Scribblenauts and two better versions of Unlimited, there are cheaper and better ways to enjoy the series than to justify the one on Nintendo’s new console.