When I was in school, I always preferred English to Math because I enjoyed spelling, reading and writing. I’ve known about the Scribblenauts series since it came out, but I passed over it thinking it was kids stuff and not overly exciting in terms of gameplay. I’m happy to say I was personally proven wrong after playing the 3DS version of Scribblenauts Unmasked, the latest game in the series.
When this game was released a few months before Christmas, I thought it would be a fun way to introduce myself to the series thanks to it being crossed with the DC Universe. While I’m not a comics fan, I’ve enjoyed DC heroes before like Batman and Superman. With that in mind, let me take you through the game’s various components and share my thoughts.
The story revolves around siblings Maxwell and Lilly. After arguing over who is better, Superman or Batman, the two decide to find out by going into the DC Universe and meeting its wide variety of heroes. This is accomplished with Maxwell’s magic notebook that can bring anything written in it to life (sort of like a friendlier Death Note) and Lilly’s magic globe which can teleport them anywhere. Unfortunately, once there, they find out Maxwell’s evil Doppelganger was brought to life as well and has teamed up with several villains to harness the power of Lilly’s globe for reasons I won’t spoil here. Maxwell must then use his notebook and the help of the Justice League to save the day and return home.
The story is pretty simplistic and easy for kids to understand, yet utilizes the DC universe nicely and has a surprisingly good comic-like plot. It ends in a sappy but heartwarming way as well, but I felt it was earned and nicely done. My favorite part, though, was the funny dialogue throughout the game. Everything from details like Batman being a total grump to some of the objectives using the occasional slightly outdated pop culture reference *coughCallMeMaybecough* made me chuckle. Even though I don’t know DC as well as Marvel, the game makes everyone’s personality shine through and even includes a portable computer/mini-encyclopedia of pretty much all the DC characters, major, minor and even obscure. It doesn’t have a ton of info per person or item, but it’s a handy tool for getting better acquainted with the characters. Overall, I liked the plot and that witty dialogue drove it home for me.
The graphics in this game are cartoony, clean and not too overly detailed or muddled. The DC characters in particular are designed simplistically but are easily recognizable, and the locations, while a bit compact, represent each hero well. All in all, I liked the feel this game was going for. However, I have a few complaints.
On a couple occasions, I found the game would chug or almost become unplayable if there was too much going on onscreen. For example, you are issued challenges by the villain Mxyzptlk that, if accepted, can limit your object and adjective choices or cause random things to happen in the world. On one occasion, he made everything have different attributes, which with so many characters in the level caused major slowdown in-game, so much so that I had to restart it and forgo the challenge. However, this point is a minor nitpick as it didn’t happen very often.
What DID happen often was the glitches I ran into. One of the first was when I summoned a flamethrower, only to have it not properly shoot out flames. I only know it glitched because it worked for me during another objective. Another occurred during a fight where Maxwell ended up frozen while being attacked mid-air. There were a few more aside from these, and while they didn’t completely take away from my enjoyment, they were annoyed and disheartening, as if the game hadn’t fully been tested or something. Aside from these issues, I did like the overall design of the game and the clean look of it.
I will say this: The music in this game is both appropriate to each level and yet a lot of it sounded generic to me. Having not played the other three Scribblenauts games, I’m not sure if this is just their style, but it would’ve been nice to have some copyrighted or similar sounding themes in there. The sound effects were pretty well done from the screams of bystanders to the cartoony punching sounds while battling. While the dialogue is written as text, there is a narration during the beginning and ending cutscenes (the only ones in the game). Much like the narrator in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, it sounds like it’s supposed to appeal to kids, yet I was surprised by who the narrator turned out to be. Nevertheless, the sound design was pretty decent.
As usual, we come to the meat of any game. The main draw of Scribblenauts is that you can literally create almost anything that comes to mind, and the added use of adjectives allows for plenty of creativity. Unmasked is split up into several worlds with five levels for Batman, three for Superman, and one each for Aquaman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the Flash, as well as the final boss level. In each level, you have a story mission which involves collecting Starites, the main collectible of the series. These are used to advance the plot and pit Maxwell and each DC hero against Doppelganger and one of their major foes, like Batman vs. Joker, Superman vs. Lex Luthor, etc. You’re given the task to either create certain objects or add adjectives to help in the battle.
This also carries over to the levels themselves, as every time you enter one you get a random selection of objectives to complete. I already mentioned the Mxyzptlk challenges, but these objectives can range from simple tasks like fixing a building to creating a superhero team out of your choice of DC heroes. The story missions and these objectives help you gain reputation points, the currency of the game. These points let you unlock levels, unlock bonus origin story levels for each Justice League member which serve as extra points and information, and unlock special costumes of heroes and villains for Maxwell to wear that give him their abilities. You even gain points just by creating random, crazy things for fun. Supposedly, there are over 1000 objectives that can appear and you’re rarely supposed to have the same one twice. My gripe with this is that I have to wonder if this only covers variations of objectives, because I got many repeats to the point of it getting a little repetitive.
The game can be breezed through in a few hours if you play it straight or at least 10+ if you take your time to unlock everything and try different, creative methods of fulfilling objectives (as I did). Aside from a few repetitive objectives, my other gripe with the gameplay is the fact that you have to build up points in order to unlock the next levels. Both Batman and Superman have their own kinds of points, and the other members all share the same kind as well. This makes unlocking the Batman ones because there are more levels to dole out points, but for Superman and the others it takes a little more time and repetition to unlock more. It can be a little tedious, but if you do tackle the game aiming to be creative, it makes it less like a chore in the long run.
Overall, for my first foray into the Scribblenauts series, Unmasked was a fun introduction. I’m a little ashamed I’ve looked down on the series so far, because now I want to check the rest out. The use of the DC license was a good way to suck me in and keep me interested, and the ability to create nearly everything from a purple people-eating eraser to Cthulhu himself was just awesome. But you really need to go in willing to test your creative chops to get the most out of it and those glitches can get irritating at times.
I give Scribblenauts Unmasked a solid 7/10.