Scribblenauts Unlimited (PC) review

Scribblenauts Unlimited gives imaginative gamers a digital sandbox in which they can tinker with the in-game world at will.
Photo of Scribblenauts Unlimited (PC)

Scribblenauts Unlimited, 5th Cell’s latest word-adventure title, lets creative gamers use a magic notebook to summon a wild array of items—from the mundane to the extravagant—as they attempt to reverse a spell that’s turning their in-game sister, Lily, into stone. It’s a very basic plot that kickstarts the action, but Scribblenauts Unlimited excels at sparking imagination as you attempt to solve puzzles. It’s one the wordsmiths and imaginauts will love. I reviewed the PC version, but Scribblenauts is also available on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U platforms.

Book of Spells
Protagonist Maxwell’s misuse of his magic notebook to prank a townsperson leads to Lily’s curse. The only way for him to save her from becoming a block of stone—and redeem himself in the process—is to use the book as a force for good. I have issue with an innocent being cursed for the guilty party’s sins, but I quickly let that slide as I began the hunt for Starite, a magic material that’s showered upon you when you do good deeds for townspeople. With enough Starite, you can reverse the curse.

Note: Although you create dinosaurs, robots, time machines, and nearly any item you can think of to solve the light puzzles there are some limitations. You can’t type vulgarities, proper nouns, or copyrighted materials.

Early in the game, for example, you encounter a girl who wants you to retrieve her cat that’s stuck in a tree. My first instinct was to summon a ladder by clicking the pencil icon in the upper-right corner and keying the word “ladder” into the text box. That sounds perfectly logical, right? I, however, decided to experiment by creating a gun and firing it. The cat jumped out of the tree to its owner—although I am unsure if I simply scared it down or shot it down. Regardless, I laughed heartily and began my slow descent into Scribblenauts Unlimited madness as I collected Starite.

That scenario also demonstrates one of Scribblenaut’s quirks—there’s no true penalty for wreaking havoc, which is in direct opposition to the game’s narrative. I’ve summoned tidal waves to extinguish small fires. Tidal waves. Rarely did any of my over the top actions prove detrimental; in the rare instance when a character ran away or died—eliminating my chance to earn Starite from them—I simply reset the level, keeping all Starite I earned until that point. A karmic system that earns Starite would’ve been an interesting gameplay mechanic that tied into the story’s theme.

Discovery, Limitations, and Object Editing
I refuse to ruin the incredible sense of discovery that comes with typing in seemingly random words and producing in-game results, but I will say this: let your imagination run free. Unfortunately, some words that are pretty innocuous are omitted. For example, you can birth ministers and bishops, but popes are off-limits.

Not only can you create items out of the blue, but you can edit any on screen object that gives you the option. You can change objects colors, patterns, limb sizes, and even behavior to come up with some truly creative new characters and items. There’s a lot to do here if you have time and creative flair.

Puzzles, unfortunately, aren’t quite as pleasing. They’re far too simple to solve, and as such, don’t encourage users to get wacky with their thinking. Many puzzles require just one item to solve, and as such they don’t truly challenge. If 5th Cell does a Scribblenauts Unlimited follow up, I’d love to see the company up the difficulty with multi-tier puzzles in the style of old school adventure games—without treading into Gabriel Knight III territory.

The End
Scribblenauts Unlimited offers a sense of imagination and whimsy seen in very few other titles—an interactive fairy tale where you have direct influence over the characters and settings. The puzzles aren’t very challenging, but Scribblenauts excels as a 2D sandbox title where reality becomes your plaything.

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Specifications
Genre Action Games
Platform PC
ESRB Rating E for Everybody

Verdict
Scribblenauts Unlimited gives imaginative gamers a digital sandbox in which they can tinker with the in-game world at will.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc