November 19, 2012

Review – Scribblenauts Unlimited

Review Scribblenauts Unlimited
There’s a monument at Edwin’s farm, a simple stone statue meant to commemorate the short life of Duchess, the firey panda. My intent was to create a fire panda that could conceivably shoot fire and fly, but a misinterpretation of words saw Duchess come to life while also on fire, at which point she proceeded to burn her little hearts away and die. I suppose such mistakes are bound to happen when granting God-like powers to people like me.

Despite 5th Cell’s attempt to directly furnish players with as much quirky narrative potential as possible, the enduring charm remains the accidental stories waiting to be discovered as players push against the walls of the test chamber here.

I’d like to suggest that how far your imagination can test those limits against the necessary restraints that bind the game onto a disc will determine the long term value being offered, but that’s not entirely true. Scribblenauts Unlimited is more about testing how long players will persist in trying to do anything they are allowed to imagine, before surrendering to the demands of a game that necessitates more narrow actions than the seemingly open world of unbridled creation suggests.

Review Scribblenauts Unlimited
The object editor has gone a long way toward assisting my fire panda research. At anytime, players can access the object editor, which offers a powerful tool for editing objects created with Maxwell’s magic notebook. For instance, loading the giant Dune-like worm I created into the object editor instantly allowed me to change and rotate elements of the creature and make more specific changes to the coloring of its body.

Further investigation revealed that I could also edit its scripted relationship regarding how it interacts with other objects in the world, from granting it attack abilities to generating electricity. Editing scripted abilities even allows for reactions to certain objects or situations, though I can’t seem to get the knack of causing it to explode the moment it’s created just yet.

The game provides a lot of tools for horsing around with objects, making the ability to create anything simply by writing it into existence a minor bit of magic compared to the more specific ability to extensively modify an objects existence. You can spend time giving life to inanimate objects just for the hell of it, like simply setting a tomato’s behavior state to that of an animal – though be warned, living tomatoes apparently eat pandas.

Review Scribblenauts Unlimited
In returning to my fire panda research, now aided by the object editor, it became easier to create a flying panda with the notebook, and then use the editor to grant it a cannon attack that produced fireballs – thus birthing Franklin, the flying fire-spewing panda.

Mind you, Franklin only spews fire when I give him intent by adding the word angry to his descriptor. Intent is signified by small speech bubbles that indicate whether an object is more interested in kicking your butt versus giving you a hug. Without these bubbles, it would be rather hard to distinguish, since even with the ability to create anything, everything manages to look very similar – angry horses don’t walk around with typically angry faces.

Otherwise, I would contend that Scribblenauts does an admirable job of offering variety – a raven and a crow may look alike, but I could create a bluejay and a canary to find my makeshift aviary littered with distinct creatures without much effort.

Did I mention there’s actually a story to be had when you’re not playing with the object editor?

There totally is.

Review Scribblenauts Unlimited
Maxwell’s sister Lily has been cursed and is slowly turning to stone after the two children play a prank on an old man. Naturally, the only way to save Lily is for Maxwell to collect Starites. With the goal set, Maxwell sets off with his notebook and a globe, which allows him to travel across the world helping people in exchange for Starites like an omnipotent Littlest Hobo.

The world map offers access to varied small areas of play, where people with a myriad of problems stand around waiting for assistance. As Maxwell collects Starites in these areas, new areas are unlocked on the world map. Collecting Starites takes two distinct forms, with Maxwell earning a full Starite in exchange for helping an evolving situation – perhaps a man is going on a date and Maxwell will be required to perform a variety of tasks to see that date evolve into a marriage between the two. But there are also smaller problems to be solved, with people in need of a singular favor and willing to reward Maxwell with a shard – collecting ten shards gives Maxwell another Starite.

The focus is entirely based around creating solutions with the notebook to solve each dilemma, which is light enough to allow for easy access between bouts of amusing yourself with the object editor – the question is whether that can hope to hold any long term attention.

5th Cell delivers plenty of earnestly amusing situations – if you’re creating food for hungry customers in a restaurant, of course a cannibal will walk in and give you a chance to serve up a super model. But at the same time, it speaks to why you wouldn’t want anyone in the real world to know if you had the power to create anything, because brother let me tell you, everybody wants a piece of you when that news hits.

Perhaps one nagging problem is that you’ll never feel the need to be overly creative with your solutions, and it’s just all around easier not to try going down that road for fear of unleashing chaos – though at anytime the stage can be reset without costing players the problems they have successfully solved.

Review Scribblenauts Unlimited
As with New Super Mario Bros. U, Scribblenauts Unlimited can be played entirely via the gamepad. The only real use for the television is the invitation for others to pickup Wii-Motes and enter the game to interact with your creations by directly controlling them – yes, you can totally take my panda for a spin by pointing the Wii-Mote at it and clicking, and that’s kind of terrific. I certainly can’t knock that this creates a great opportunity for family focused play sessions, where younger gamers can do more than simply tell you about their creations by pulling an audience into the world of objects they create – if you have younger gamers in your house, knock the incentive of ownership up a notch. The gamepad offers quick and easy access to Maxwell’s notebook, the object editor, and world map, offering a very simple interface.

For those of us more familiar with the formula, Scribblenauts Unlimited still provides an entertaining five minute fun factor that offers an interesting talking piece. But in many ways, it’s more interesting to talk about the game than actually play it. I’m still not entirely sure there is a way to play Scribblenauts, that the game is more a means of creating small plays, wherein the director has immense control, and yet at the same time, hardly any control at.

It really boils down to the necessity to create games within the game, which still finds players confined by the necessary barriers that hold this game world together. And at that point, I’d simply rather create a game of my own.

5th Cell

Warner Bros. Interactive

Nintendo Wii U

Singleplayer, Multiplayer

Release Date
November 18, 2012

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. Where are the angry flying fire shooting panda pictures?! >:(

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — November 21, 2012 @ 8:57 am

  2. ha I’ll try to capture some later today.

    Comment by Jamie Love — November 21, 2012 @ 9:32 am

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