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The Scribblenauts series has from its inception made lofty promises of "write anything, solve everything" gameplay. More so than any previous installment in the franchise, Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U delivers on that promise, thanks to a number of sweeping gameplay improvements and new features.
As in previous games, you control Maxwell, a young man in possession of a magical notepad that brings to life whatever he writes on it. Phoenixes, zombies, and God are just a few of the thousands of different items that can be conjured in moments, and they can be enhanced with descriptive adjectives that can change such properties as size, color, and behavior.
Unlimited also has the new ability to attach objects to other items--which is to say, your dream of conjuring up a flaming zombie dinosaur with wings can finally be achieved. Unlimited's lexicon is immense and initially daunting, but the game does a fine job of introducing players to the possibilities. This results in hours of fun playing around in Scribblenaut's sandbox.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the open-ended gameplay, the actual focus of Unlimited is solving puzzles by using those godlike powers to help your fellow man. Maxwell will happen upon people stating problems like, “I’m nervous about a first date,” or “this bully frightens me.” The requests are open enough that there are dozens of possible solutions for each, and there’s added fun in trying to find the most obtuse fix to a problem. For instance, two kids want help getting their baseball off an old man’s lawn without angering him, so you can simply add the adjective “blind” to the old man and he won’t see the kids grab their toy.
Maxwell’s grabbag of challenges is presented much more elegantly in Scribblenauts Unlimited than in previous installments. Instead of a collection of puzzles that are chosen from a menu, the people in need are part of an open world. Maxwell will meet a host of people in need, in locations as varied as haunted mansions, restaurants, and high schools. These areas can be reset at any time, making it easy to experiment with outrageous solutions to everyday problems.
Unlimited presents the core concepts of Scribblenauts better than ever before, thanks in large part to its untethering from the portable sector. The Wii U GamePad works extremely well with Scribblenauts, with the implementation being nearly identical to how the game controls on the DS's lower screen. And in a nod to its portable roots, the game can be played exclusively on the GamePad, though TV output is also an option.
What could end up being the most important update to Scribblenauts is the new creator tool, which allows players to create custom items in their own games and make them available to the community at large. Depending on how it’s used, this could have far more impact than the new HD visuals or any cameos from classic Nintendo characters. Then there’s the multiplayer, a light diversion where up to four players can take over any characters created by Maxwell. It allows other players to take part in the game on a small scale, but all the real power--particularly item creation--is with the player holding the GamePad.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is easily the best entry in the series to date, thanks to its family-friendly nature coupled with creative, wide-open gameplay. A clever toy or a focused open world adventure depending on how you want to enjoy the game, it’s an impressive first effort from 5th Cell on the Wii U.
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