Scribblenauts Unmasked Review
Maxwell has an amazing power. The young star of the Scribblenauts games can conjure objects out of thin air and apply properties to himself or to anything around him. In theory, this sounds like the ultimate superpower, an ability that gives you access to just about any power you can think of. Just tap Maxwell and type “flying,” and you can take to the skies. Tap an enemy and type “frozen,” and he stops in his tracks. The only limit should be your imagination, and Maxwell should fit right in with the likes of Batman, Superman, and the hundreds of other DC universe characters who can be summoned in Scribblenauts Unmasked. But unfortunately, your real battles in Unmasked aren’t with the likes of Lex Luthor and the Joker, but with the often-frustrating logic of the game itself.
Scribblenauts Unmasked whisks Maxwell and his sister Lily to the DC universe, but their arrival brings chaos to the streets of Gotham, the skyscrapers of Metropolis, and other famous locations. That’s because Maxwell’s mischievous doppelganger has also come to the world, and he pairs up with numerous supervillains who are attempting to harness the power of the starites that have become scattered about the universe. So as Maxwell, you traipse through locales, helping citizens in order to earn reputation that lets you access still more locations, and every once in a while engaging in a structured encounter with a supervillain to secure a starite.
With the exception of the starite battles, most incidents you happen upon throughout the game are randomly generated, so you can return to Atlantis or Arkham Asylum over and over again and find new problems to solve. Unfortunately, more often than not, these problems lack any sense of comic-book pizzazz, and just feel like mundane tasks. People ask you to collect objects scattered around the environment, or to toss a soccer ball into a goal. The tasks on offer are often surreal. A waiter might inform you that his ATM has been taken (yes, his personal ATM), or a talking bass might ask you to give him a new tail. Most of these problems are easily solved and require little creativity, and too many of them feel at odds with the game’s superhero theme and setting.
Still, there are plenty of opportunities for masked vigilantes and men of steel to make themselves useful. The sheer number of DC characters in Unmasked is impressive. Type in “Batman,” and you’re presented with a slew of caped crusaders to choose from. Do you want Batman Beyond Batman, Year One Batman, or Armored The Dark Knight Returns Batman? But the game’s character library extends far beyond well-known characters like Aquaman and The Flash. If your knowledge of DC characters doesn’t already include the likes of Aztek and Triplicate Girl, not to worry. You can browse the batcomputer at any time looking for heroes and villains, and read brief bios of each character. And on the PC and Wii U, you can create and share characters and objects, so if you want Rorschach or Captain America’s shield or Sylvia Plath to play a part in your adventures, you can make that happen.
But while the quantity of DC characters on offer is amazing, it quickly becomes frustrating that they don’t often behave in ways that you might want them to. If you find a wall of huge ice cubes standing between you and a starite, for instance, you might summon one of the game’s many variations of Superman, thinking that he can use his heat vision to easily eliminate this obstruction. Instead, though, Supes just stands there, seemingly clueless as to how he can offer you any assistance. Frustrations with the logic and behavior of objects and adjectives in the game extend well beyond the DC characters. In that same conundrum, for instance, you might apply the adjective “melting” to the ice cubes, but while this results in them giving off drops of water in a way that suggests they’re melting, they never actually melt.
The failure of adjectives to work the way they should is an issue throughout the game; you come up with solutions to problems that seem sound, but that don’t work, so you feel as if you’re struggling not so much with the problems Maxwell is faced with, but with the game’s systems. Eventually you find nouns and adjectives that are so effective at helping you overcome specific types of problems that you’ll likely rely on them over and over again. The game encourages you to change things up, offering only 50 percent of the reputation reward if you use the same word twice within the same scenario, but you move from locale to locale so frequently that this is no impediment.
Additionally, Mr. Mxyzptlk periodically offers you an opportunity to earn double reputation if you agree to his conditions. These are sometimes easily manageable (each object in the world has random adjectives assigned to it, so you encounter things like tsunamic trophic theoretical telepathic roses and fat fire-breathing flat armed extinguished firemen) and sometimes quite challenging (you can only use words starting with the letter J). But these challenges are always optional, and if one has you overly flummoxed, you can cancel it at any time.
Scribblenauts Unmasked looks endearing. But its charms too often give way to boredom as you find yourself doing menial tasks in locations known for being extraordinary, and to exasperation as things don’t work the way you think they should. And of course, there are opportunities here to come up with your own unusual and goofy scenarios–What would happen if Superman and God got in a fight?–but the results are never as interesting as your imaginative ideas deserve. You’re better off using your imagination within the confines of your own mind, where you can soar the skies of Metropolis unfettered by the faulty and limited logic imposed by Scribblenauts Unmasked.