When they announced that the next Scribblenauts game would include characters and settings from the DC Comics Universe, I was excited. That's a lot of history to pull from, and with Scribblenauts' reputation of including tons of things you wouldn't expect, I was hopeful we'd see more than just Superman, Batman, and a few of the Justice League.
What I got was so much more than I expected, and yet, was still a bit lacking.
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure (Wii U [reviewed], 3DS, PC)
Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Warner Brothers Games
Released: September 24, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 (Wii U), $39.99 (3DS, PC)
So, how did the world of DC Comics and the game of Scribblenauts come together? For the uninitiated, Scribblenauts centers around Maxwell and Lily, a brother and sister who each posses a magical item. Max's notebook can conjure up anything he writes in it, and Lily's globe can take them to any location.
Maxwell gets the brilliant idea to slap a page from his notebook with "Gotham City" written on it onto the globe to be taken to their world. Unfortunately, the word "Doppleganger" was somehow on the back of this paper, and Maxwell's evil twin is let loose in the DC Universe, joining up with the villains. After a chance meeting with Batman, they are all now in search of the starite bits that escaped from Lily's globe that broke when they landed in Gotham City.
As you complete tasks around town you earn reputation, which allows you to unlock more cities from the DCU. Metropolis, Oa, Atlantis, and more are all available. Tasks range from the simple to the bizarre, such as a guy who wants to be taken to the Wayne Manor roof where there is a trap door ... that leads nowhere, or the security guard who simply wants a glass of ice water.
At Wayne Manor, Batman and Alfred give Maxwell access to the Batcomputer where he can pull up just about everything in the DCU for use in the game. Want to call upon Green Lantern? You can either write his name in the notebook, or pull him up via the Batcomputer. But that's not all, oh no. You can also specify which version of Green Lantern, be it Hal Jordan, Guy Gardener, Kyle Raynor, Jon Stewart -- the level of detail in the minuscule facts of the characters are amazing.
If you're playing on Wii U or PC, the Batcave also houses the Hero Creator, where you can design your own heroes for summoning in the game. Want to make some Marvel hero look-a-likes? Sad that Neil Gaiman's Sandman isn't in the game? Make them here. There are loads of tools and outfits available.
When in a mission, however, is when the game starts to fall apart. While there are tons of words in the game that can be used to conjure up items, heroes, and more, how they act in the game tends to be hit or miss. Want Superman to melt some ice with his heat vision? Well, you can summon him, but he may just stand there. Likewise, tapping on the ice and using the word "melt" makes it drip, but it never really melts away. It's as though the game promotes creativity, but only the creativity the programmers designed into it.
The game's main story missions are the most fun, where you'll interact with the characters from the comics and stop the villains from grabbing the starite bits, utilizing the book in the coolest scenarios. However, the instances between these where you earn your reputation points only seem to be menial tasks at best, used to stretch out the game length. Some don't even make any sense, and by the time you've figured out what you're supposed to do, some instances end without warning, such as the man beating up the guy dressed as Julius Caesar. By the time I figured out how to stop them, Caesar was dead, and there's no way to reload the instance as they're all randomly generated as it is.
Sadly, these types of puzzles must be completed, as the reputation you earn unlocks more places to find starite missions, but hopping from place to place usually opens up better missions if you don't like or can't figure out the ones you have presently. Also, you can only earn half of the reputation points for a task if you use a word you've already used on that map. Switching areas helps negate that.
From time to time, Mr. Mxyzptlk appears and issues a challenge for that level, such as not allowing you to solve any puzzles using a weapon, or only using words that begin with a certain letter. This certainly opens up the creativity, and these are some of the best moments of the game for me as it presented me with a more challenging way to solve things. However, I still would run into trouble with finding just the right way to solve certain tasks, as certain puzzles seemed to only want one answer. Scaring a snake was one such puzzle, and summoning a mongoose really was the only option.
Playing on the Wii U is kind of a silly thing, as you spend the entire game looking at the GamePad rather than up at the TV screen, so the HD graphics don't really make much of an impression, though they are fantastic if you do happen to look up. There's an option to switch everything to the GamePad to free up the TV, which I highly recommend since you'll never really need the TV to begin with.
Scribblenauts Unmasked, when it boils down to it, is a good idea wrapped in poor execution. The main missions for grabbing the starites are fun, but the puzzles that you need to complete to gain reputation to unlock those missions seem to be there to stretch the game to it's 8-12 hour length.
The inclusion of the DC license is very cool, and the level of detail included with all the characters, vehicles, and lore is astounding, allowing the player to spend a ton of time in the Batcomputer checking out everything in the game, plus the familiar characters done in the Scribblenauts style is just so frikkin' cute that it's sickening. Still, getting everyone or everything to behave how you want in a mission or a puzzle makes thing just extra aggravating. Though there is a certain amount of satisfaction when summoning Aquaman and having the game tell you "Aquaman is not useful here." Ain't that the truth.