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EGM Review:
Scribblenauts Unlimited

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Posted on December 18, 2012 AT 09:00am

Not Quite Unlimited, But Close Enough

Am I the only person who’s absolutely terrified by Scribblenauts Unlimited‘s premise? Maxwell’s parents have given him two artifacts of immeasurable power—a notebook that lets him create anything he writes inside of it, and an orb that lets him teleport anywhere in the world instantaneously. In other words, they’ve effectively endowed him with the powers of an omnipotent, omnipresent god. Then, as the only logical follow-up to that masterstroke of parenting, they decide send him out into the world completely unsupervised.

I mean, I get that he’s heading off on a quest to collect Starites, lift the curse that’s slowly turning his sister to stone, and learn some bulls*** lessons about responsibility and friendship along the way, but seriously, come on. He doesn’t look a day over 11, and I don’t know anyone that age who’s even remotely mature enough to responsibly wield the greatest power ever known to mankind. It’s a miracle he didn’t immediately spawn a giant space T-Rex with laser vision and destroy the entire Earth just to see if the explosion looked cool.

Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t expect responsible child rearing from a couple that managed to spit out 42 kids before they decided it was time to call it quits.

Ridiculous plot aside, Unlimited is quite clearly the most successful implementation of the Scribblenauts concept to date, and the game is a perfect match for the Wii U’s hardware. The cutesy graphics are impressive in HD, and given all the typing you’ll have to do, the GamePad controller is a natural fit for gameplay, allowing you to quickly and painlessly summon up anything you can imagine (provided you can figure out how to spell it properly). The only real drawback is that I found myself ignoring the TV altogether, since constantly shifting my focus between the controller and the screen started to feel like a bit of a chore.

The overall structure of the game has been greatly improved as well, ditching individual, sequestered puzzles in favor of populated locales and an overworld map. Every area has its own theme, whether it’s a firehouse, a tropical island, or a space station, and its inhabitants will usually have a problem that suits their surroundings. The new pacing also opens the game up to more complicated, multistage puzzles that break down a problem into a series of discrete steps, like breaking a bunch of criminals out of prison or helping defend against an invasion of zombies.

The main problem with all this is that most of the puzzles have a fairly bland, commonsense solution that usually springs to mind before anything actually interesting pops into your head. Need to get a cat out of a tree? Make a ladder. Need to put out a fire? Make a fire extinguisher.

Of course, those solutions aren’t nearly as fun to watch as, say, giving the cat a tiny jetpack or placing a crying giant right next to the fire, and that’s where your experience with Unlimited will ultimately succeed or fall flat. If you’re going to enjoy yourself here, you can’t be content with just solving every last puzzle as fast as possible. You have to take a moment to think of the craziest, most roundabout solution you can, then take pleasure in seeing whether or not your harebrained scheme will actually work.

While there will no doubt be some disappointments along the way, the game is usually more than happy to abide by your insane twists of logic. This flexibility can lead to some hilarious and memorable moments, like when I comforted a crying orphan by creating new parents for her, or the time I helped a group of kids get their ball back from a crotchety old man by affixing him with the adjective “dead.”

That’s the bottom line, really. Anyone who’s willing to put in that added effort and attempt to push the boundaries of Scribblenauts Unlimited‘s puzzles should have a wonderful time with the game, but I can see it being an especially great buy for kids. As I worked my way through puzzle after puzzle, I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly the sort of game I’d want to play if I were 15 years younger and exactly the sort of game I’ll want my future children to play when they’re old enough. At its best, Unlimited is a beautiful exercise in linguistic creativity and whimsical experimentation, the sort of experience you won’t find in any other game on the market today.

SUMMARY: Scribblenauts Unlimited is a perfect match for the Wii U’s hardware, making brilliant use of the GamePad controller to deliver a wonderfully creative sandbox puzzler.

  • THE GOOD: Another fine iteration of the nuttiest, most ambitious sandbox in gaming history.
  • THE BAD: If you’re not willing to seek out clever solutions, puzzles can be too straightforward.
  • THE UGLY: Two words: “Naked Cthulhu.”

SCORE: 8.5

Scribblenauts Unlimited is available on Wii U and 3DS. Primary version reviewed was for Wii U. 

Josh Harmon, Associate Editor
Josh Harmon picked up a controller when he was 3 years old—and he hasn't looked back since. This has made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from behind. He joined EGM as an intern following a brief-but-storied career on a number of small gaming blogs across the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @jorshy. Meet the rest of the crew.

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