A magical notebook and a pencil are the tools that once again open up a world of endless possibilities, as Scribblenauts Unlimited delivers the means with which your imagination can run rampant.
Still absent from European retailers following an ominous last minute delay, the Nintendo 3DS version very much follows the same thread as its accompanying Wii U release.
Those that have played either Scribblenauts or Super Scribblenauts will largely know what to expect from 5th Cell’s award-winning franchise, although this latest instalment makes broader attempts to sprinkle narrative atop the experience.
This at first explores the lives of Maxwell’s grandparents, Edgar and Julie, who themselves used to be adventurers when they were younger. They semi-retire once married, producing an excessively large family of 42 children. Impressive.
More significantly, we learn that they were the ones responsible for procuring two gifts for Maxwell and his sister Lily: a Magic Globe that enables its user to travel anywhere they desired, and a Magic Notebook that makes any word written on its pages come to life.
Sent out on their own adventure, they stumble upon an old man who explains that he’s hungry. In a moment of childish humour Maxwell creates a rotten apple to feed the stranger, displeasing the man who afflicts his sister with a curse that is slowly turning her to stone.
Luckily his brother Edwin knows of a cure, tasking Maxwell with collecting magical Starites that appear as a reward for performing good deeds. And so, your quest begins.
Starting at Edwin’s Farm players unfamiliar with the game’s mechanics will be brought up to speed, aiding him with preparing one of his pigs for a competition. You’ll scrub it clean, use adjectives to increase its size, and grant it wings to impress the judges, allowing Edwin to bask in his prize-winning success, and, more importantly, receiving your first Starite.
This is just the early beginnings of Maxwell’s latest tale, which soon sees fending off zombie invasions at Capital City’s Fire Station, meandering the corridors of Sir Guillemet’s Castle, or being spooked at Grave Manor. There are numerous locations to visit, each accessed through an expansive world map.
The Magic Notebook once again proves a joy to play around with, 5th Cell’s Objectnaut engine continuing to churn out desired items at whim. Adjectives and nouns still remain core to your puzzle solving – a disclaimer noting “vulgarity, copyrighted materials and proper nouns are not allowed” – resulting in a system that, whilst still commendable, fails to gravitate away from the series’ previous imperfections.
Whilst the system tries its best to match whatever you’ve typed, there are still plenty of grey areas where certain requests don’t work as expected – perhaps it’s my British English.
It isn’t just your natural creativity that Scribblenauts Unlimited tests, but also your problem solving ability. Starites are rewarded through either analysing a characters needs and creating item(s) to meet their requirements, or through the completion of multi-tiered missions that see you assembling robots and training dragons.
Simplicity is perhaps a concern, despite occasional puzzles throwing up obscure answers that youngsters may struggle to solve. There are often multiple solutions, significantly easing the difficulty although often more substantial puzzles will negotiate awkwardly unobvious answers that detract from an otherwise charmed adventure.
Whilst making continued use of an established formula, everything feels remarkably familiar despite the lavish environments that you find yourself wandering. A sentiment that perhaps hints toward 5th Cell needing to think of more significant new ideas to interpret their own creation.
Safe would perhaps be the best word to describe Scribblenauts Unlimited, still proving that it can offer a uniquely enriching gameplay experience. It’s just one that is beginning to feel tired.