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There's an actual game to be found within Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure. It's buried there, beneath two thousand DC Universe character cameos, a few vampiric dinosaurs, and the uncanny ability of 5th Cell's "create anything" game to make even the cruelest of villains seem like tiny, harmless plush dolls. The peculiar marriage of Scribblenauts and your favorite comic book heroes makes for an entertaining weekend plaything, but it quickly falls victim to the pitfalls beleaguering the rest of the games in this imaginative yet flawed series.
Series protagonist Maxwell and his twin sister Lily become embroiled in a crisis that's befallen the known-and-loved DC Comics worlds, with evil Max doppelgangers aiding nefarious villains like Lex Luthor and the Joker in their evil plots. Just as Max has a magical notebook that allows him to spawn any object he desires, Lily has a globe that allows her to travel wherever she wishes. After reaching Gotham City and meeting up with Batman to get briefed on the problems at hand, Lily's globe shatters. It's up to you and Max to slowly rebuild it so that you can help out where needed and eventually return home. It's a rather contrived way to blur the lines between the Scribblenauts and DC universes, and the situation never feels dire enough that you feel moved to stop messing about with Max's notebook and go after the doppelgangers. In fact, the heroes themselves are pretty laid-back about it all, with Batman taking the time to introduce you to Alfred and Ace, his canine companion. Who has time for that in an emergency?
"...[Unmasked] quickly falls victim to the pitfalls beleaguering the rest of the games in this imaginative yet flawed series."
Using Max's notebook, you can spawn any item you please to do what seems like the impossible. Simply type in what you're looking for, and whether it's a chainsaw, feather boa, or a rubber chicken, it will materialize in front of Max. Of course, there's much more fun to be had here with DC characters thrown into the mix. Once you're free to begin spawning items and characters as you please, you'll no doubt want to see how many obscure or unknown characters you can stump the system with. Spoiler alert: You probably won't. Unmasked is a veritable treasure trove of famous heroes, villains, minor characters, and variations on heavy-hitters. Typing in "Wonder Woman" or "Superman" will open a new can of worms: which Wonder Woman or Superman do you want? Would you prefer the New 52 Harley Quinn or pre New 52? If there's a character you want to summon from your favorite comic, chances are they're in the game.
If you're not sure who you want to spawn, the excellent Bat Computer in the Batcave acts as a helpful database to see what's available. You can return here at any time to read Wiki-like entries on all the wacky and wonderful characters you can pull out of thin air. It's an admirable accomplishment, and a great way to inject some longevity into what's otherwise a fairly short game.
Luckily, you're not stuck wandering aimlessly around Gotham City, or any of the other worlds for that matter, considering they're pretty tiny spaces to explore. Lily's globe still has enough power to transport you from Gotham City to Metropolis, or from Metropolis to Oa, the Green Lantern Corps' headquarters--wherever you need to go in order to offer your assistance. Hopping from world to world, you'll deliver donuts to hungry members of the Gotham City Police Department, complete challenges from Mr. Mxyzptlk, and aid Superman in defeating Lex Luthor. There’s plenty for you to do, but these missions aren’t exactly engaging.
"Unmasked is a veritable treasure trove of famous heroes, villains, minor characters, and variations on heavy-hitters."
As you do good deeds for the citizens of Gotham and fellow heroes, points are rewarded for your creativity and completing the small tasks waiting for you. Completing story quests will earn you Starites as well, which can be used to unlock new areas. Story and side quests can be as frivolous as giving Hawkwoman a new way to "fly south" for the Winter by drawing her an airplane to hop in, or more serious, such as transporting Zsasz to a more secure location. While there are some laughs to be had at reducing a dangerous criminal to a pocket accessory, there’s this nagging feeling that more could have been done with the subject material at hand. Adding adjectives to the items you've spawned ("fancy" adds a crown to said item, and "healthy" tacked on to Max restores hit points) adds another layer of fun to the "what can I conjure up next" game, but being creative doesn't always pay off--in fact, sometimes it backfires in unexpected ways.
For example, an early scuffle finds Batman and the Joker duking it out while Max and his doppelganger have a fight of their own. You must spawn something to attack the Joker with. Superman seemed like the best "weapon" to solve the issue creatively, and in Supes went, immediately deploying heat vision. Joker was defeated--and the mission failed. Apparently defeating the Joker wasn't the outcome the game preferred. At a later point in the game, another match between Max and his doppelganger called for something other than a weapon to end the fight. Green Lantern seemed a formidable enough opponent for the flying monstrosity the Max doppelganger conjured up, but instead of immediately going to work he simply stood by while Max received a swift beatdown.
"...being creative doesn't always pay off--in fact, sometimes it backfires in unexpected ways."
It wasn't until the addition of the "angry" adjective to Green Lantern that he finally started attacking, never distinguishing between the enemy and Max. It would have been simpler to mirror the doppelganger's beast, negating the "creative" angle of the game. The message is clear: to make any significant progress, you need to be practical instead of the dreamer Scribblenauts wants you to be. It's all fine and dandy to summon a dapper Cthulhu when messing about, but if you want to make any real headway, think like the game wants you to think. Rather than relying on the clumsiness of a helicopter to navigate Metropolis, it was much more efficient to create a pair of wings for Maxwell. Like the other Scribblenauts games before it, Unmasked offers the illusion of unlimited potential, but doesn't exactly follow through on the execution.
Comic fans will find plenty to love here, so long as their goal is to peruse one of the most exhaustive databases of DC Comics characters ever compiled in a video game. There's a seemingly endless amount of trivia, factoids, and cameos to sift through that make checking the game out even for a few minutes worth your time as a die-hard comic enthusiast. If you're a Scribblenauts vet looking to see if the issues plaguing prior games have finally been addressed, though, you're going to end up disappointed. The possibilities may still be endless, but the solutions are still, unfortunately, very much within bounds.
This game was reviewed on PC.
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