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Wii U mini-reviews: Scribblenauts Unlimited

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I asked 5th Cell to make me a thylacoleo, a prehistoric marsupial lion; they made me a giant striped carnivorous prehistoric koala. Close enough.

I asked 5th Cell to make me a thylacoleo, a prehistoric marsupial lion; they made me a giant striped carnivorous prehistoric koala. Close enough.

Nintendo has certainly learned their lesson. After the 3DS launch library was heavily criticised for its limited size and diversity, the Wii U's library of games on day one was huge. The problem with this is that it's very hard for a games critic like me to play and review everything on offer, at least within a reasonable time.

As such, over the coming week or two, I will be running daily mini-reviews of some of the better launch titles. I won't have had time to play all of them through to the end, but I will spend at least a few hours on each and share my initial impressions.

--

The original Scribblenauts on the Nintendo DSwas a disappointing title for me. I followed its development and watched every hands-on video I could find, and I was thrilled by its unique concept. Solving hundreds of problems in an adorable hand-drawn world by summoning any item you could think of was, and still is, sheer genius.

Strong as that concept was, the execution left something to be desired. The controls were awful, and the fiddly puzzle levels became deathtraps, where one wayward touch on the screen would send the hero Maxwell to his doom. The physics were also fairly nutty, with nothing in the world really behaving as you would expect.

Super Scribblenauts, also on the DS, fixed the controls, tweaked the glitchy physics, and added adjectives to its gigantic library of words. By that time, though, boredom had set in, so the idea just didn't feel fresh any more, and the puzzles felt a little tired and uninspired.

Scribblenauts Remix on iOS was a great proof of concept for a high-definition revamp, showing that the charming visual style could still look great and higher resolution, and the touch screen controls were excellent. However, it was let down by an extremely limited puzzle selection and aggressive in-app purchase strategy that made me feel ripped off by its higher-than-average purchase price.

Now, the Wii U (and this week, Windows PC) has Scribblenauts Unlimited, and I'm very happy to report that after five or six hours of play, it is Scribblenauts finally done right. The original core of the game is still intact and unblemished, but the presentation is spot on, and the extra toys are fantastic.

Jeremiah Slaczka, Creative Director at Scribblenauts developer 5th Cell, told me that Unlimited began its life on Nintendo's previous machine. "We’d been developing Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii for awhile, but were seriously struggling with how to deal with typing without a peripheral," he said. "The GamePad totally mitigated that concern."

Slaczka explained how the Wii U unlocked many concepts that were previous impossible, allowing a host of new features in the new title. "We’ve had so many ideas for this game for so long, that when we first laid eyes on the Wii U we almost couldn’t believe how well it would suit Scribblenauts," he said. "It was the perfect console for it."

Rather than being faced with a series of menu screens to choose puzzles from, Maxwell now wanders around a series of free-range levels, solving mini-puzzle right there in the world, and going into sub-levels to solve major multi-part puzzles. There is even a story of sorts: Maxwell's sister is slowly turning to stone because of a magical curse, cast on her because Maxwell was rude and selfish, so now he has to help others to earn Starites, and can use their power to cure his sister.

Never mind the story, though - fans are here for the madcap lexical antics born of Maxwell's magical notepad, and Unlimited does not disappoint. The puzzles start easily enough, but the difficulty slowly creeps up. I am yet to encounter any genuinely devious puzzles, but there is such a wealth of content on show that I have barely scratched the surface; I'm sure things will get tough later in the game.

Content-wise, Fifth Cell has added a huge number of new words, though they are tight-lipped as to exactly how many. "That’s our trade secret! Suffice to say, you shouldn’t find a non-trademarked object that’s not in the game," said Slaczka. In addition to adding characters like Mario and Bowser in honour of the Wii U launch, many easter eggs can be found, including a wealth of pop culture references, such as Family Guy's "wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tubeman".

A co-operative multiplayer mode has been added, though I have not had the chance to try it out. There is also the all-new object editor, a surprisingly powerful tool that allows players to create detailed custom objects. You can build them from scratch from simple objects, or take an existing complex object and pull it to bits, adding your own parts, and then customising colours and textures.

A button-based scripting tool then allows you to dictate exactly how the object will behave in the world. Clothing can be created to imbue Maxwell with certain abilities when he puts it on. Living creatures can be set with broad behaviours - friendly or hostile, carnivorous or vegetarian - but also micro-managed for precise behaviours, such as being afraid of dogs, or always putting out fires. I have had a play with the tool, but much like Little Big Planet, I am sure we will be astonished at what the fans are going to create.

I'll let Slaczka describe the editor in his own words: "You can take a dog’s head and put it on a giraffe’s foot, paint the whole thing like a rainbow, and then give it any property you want. The advanced scripting, where you add the properties, is actually based on our internal tools for making the game. You can make objects create firestorms, give them ice breath, shoot anything as a projectile, make them protect specific things, eat specific things - the list just goes on forever."

If you demand something challenging, Scribblenauts is not for you. The puzzles are never too taxing, and the reward lies in making your own fun, and challenging yourself to come up with the most ridiculous solutions for very simple problems. if you are a fan of the concept but have been let down by the execution in the past, Scribblenauts Unlimited is your cue to give the series another chance.

 - James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

9 comments so far

  • Never played Scribblenauts in any form. Have played a few similar games floating in the app store, but even those were hardly exciting. I like the concepts in this one but it's probably still not going to be played.

    Commenter
    Joka
    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 7:35AM
    • Whoa, this is coming on PC as well? So.. It doesn't actually make much use of motion control/waggle? It would be fine on a gamepad + keyboard or mouse + keyboard?

      Here comes a new challenger!

      Commenter
      Lucid Fugue
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 9:14AM
      • This does look great. I would be tempted to pickup the PC version as my kids would absolutely love this... however there's a significant price disparity between the US ($30) and AU ($50) Steam prices. I really don't understand where that additional $20 comes from?

        I'm... um... holding off in protest!

        Commenter
        Scubafinch
        Date and time
        December 04, 2012, 11:19AM
        • I think if you buy it from a site that sells the steam code, it'll work regardless. At least I purchased a Steam code for X-Com for $30 a week after release and it worked. I highly doubt it was sourced from Australia.

          Commenter
          Lucid Fugue
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 11:55AM
        • Similar to Lucid Fugue, I bought a Borderlands 2 code online. Both the main game and the Season Pass for the DLC came to about $30AUD :)

          Commenter
          Schmole
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 12:30PM
        • Thanks. Yeah, i've used the ozgameshop code by email store and picked up Skyrim and Battlefield 3 for AU$20 a pop. No issues with the codes at all. Such a shame that Steam/publishers can't set a uniform price though!

          Any other legitimate sites worth mentioning?

          Commenter
          Scubafinch
          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 12:33PM
        • I frequently use both Gamersgate (the UK version) and Green Man Gaming. The former is good for picking up titles that are not available here / utilising the pound, and the latter often has great discount vouchers on games - I grabbed Hitman recently for $29 at launch (and would have been disappointed with it if I'd paid much more).

          Commenter
          Lith
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 1:13PM
      • Really trying to fight the urge to buy this, you're not helping.

        Also, I see Fairfax Digital is recommending me articles now. Elbow-Boob Girl just won't leave me alone.

        Commenter
        Leigh
        Date and time
        December 04, 2012, 5:41PM
        • Had a nice quick go at this during E2 (i had fun making a Flying Friendly Volcano among other things for lulz =P) and its definitely on my "To Buy List"

          That being said after skimming through other quick reviews the verdict seems to be a like it or hate it on the "open world" approach as some folks felt it became more of an over glorified "fetch quest" w/o structure and others like your review Dexx praised it for the change away from the rigid "Solve this" stages. Personally any puzzle game that lets me be as crazily creative as Scribblenaughts is a must buy for me

          Commenter
          RocK_M
          Location
          I want chinese take-away!
          Date and time
          December 06, 2012, 8:53AM

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