As I’m sitting here writing this review, the new Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is on my TV. I realise that doesn’t mean all that much to some of you, but to me it’s part of the continued evolution of the little comic book world I grew up in. Gone are the days where you’re frowned upon as you read a comic book or play your favourite Game Boy game at school. These days, pop culture means everything and exists just about everywhere.
As it does here, within the latest edition to the Scribblenauts franchise, the creatively titled Scribblenauts Unmasked. Featuring a cast of hundreds direct from the DC comics vault, Unmasked places series hero Maxwell and his sister within his favourite thing in the world. Okay, granted, his notebook is actually his favourite thing, but comic books aren’t far behind. More specifically, DC comic books.
As with the series proper, this spin-off has you using Maxwell’s notebook to create items in order to aid your progress, solving puzzles or beating up bad guys along the way. The beautiful thing about Scribblenauts is that there’s never one clear way to solve anything, it’s entirely up to you. But given you’re now within DC’s world, the opportunity to unleash even crazier possibilities.
Having played all of the games in 5th Cell’s series so far, this one stood out for me as the most exciting. Not only because the formulas has been mixed up just enough to make it feel like a much newer product than the last few sequels, but because of the absolute ton of DC references! I thought LEGO had that area covered, but the team have gone out of their way to incorporate as many characters and places as humanly possible. Although I had to look up a few of them that went over my head.
Unmasked is split into different worlds based upon very well known DC locations. There’s obvious places, such as Gotham City and Metropolis, but you’ll also visit the home town’s over other famous names along the way. Each location then plays host to a number of puzzles to solve, which you discover by searching for characters with a little marker above their heads. These puzzles can range from the obvious (handing them an item based on what they ask for) or the slightly more difficult (beating down a bunch of zombies, for example).
Each level also features a story quest, in which Maxwell and his sister have accidentally scattered pieces of the portal jumping globe and must collect each piece by helping certain heroes. You’ll be fighting a number of villains in the process and the ability to use whatever comes to mind will bring up some hilarious moments. However, if you want to achieve the best result possible, you’ll be limited by how many times you can use the same word within a given level, which is a nice addition strategically. Certainly better than spamming ‘Superman’.
Besides its concept, Scribblenauts prides itself on its unique art style, which bodes itself rather well to the DC Universe. The amount of characters on offer provides plenty of opportunities to create unique versions of almost anyone you can think of. Whilst the series hasn’t changed all that much over time, there are certain added visual trickery and detail that adds to the amusing, fun loving nature of it all. Even with the Joker about to blow things up, it’s still a kids game at heart, so expect cartoon explosions (certainly not GTA).
The biggest issue, and this pertains to the entire back catalogue of Scribblenauts games, comes down to how long you’ll stick with it. The presentation is charming, the many references and cameos will please many a DC fan and the puzzle solving elements are well developed, but in the end your appreciation of Unmasked comes down to your patience. Do you have enough of it to create enough new ideas to solve each new problem? Or will you take the easy way out just to get to the next stage, sapping a little of the fun out of it in the process.
Personally I enjoyed the experience, and will continue to do so as I delve deeper into it. But I can see a few issues, namely regarding those fans of the series who aren’t, necessarily, DC fans or general readers. The in-built Bat Computer acts as a well designed database that will educate those who want to know more, but how many people out there will want to spend the time reading it when there’s this thing called Wikipedia.
Now bare in mind, this review comes direct from the PC edition of the game. Playing on the Wii U or 3DS will provide a slightly different experience, though relatively the same. I did notice that the character creation system isn’t available on the 3DS, which is a shame since it’s actually kinda fun creating your own superhero to call up. It does have a spot pass feature that allows you to collect new costumes, but that’s a little weak if you ask me. It would have been way more fun if you could share created characters or levels, perhaps. Playing on PC takes a little getting used to, though using a keyboard quickens the pace a little compared to tapping with a stylus.
Scribblenauts Unmasked is a well designed and enjoyable experience. Whether it’s worth playing as a Scribblenauts fan will come down to how much you love your Batman and Superman, or how much more you want to know about the DC universe. If that’s something that doesn’t appeal, perhaps Scribblenauts Unlimited will be your better port of call. If you’re a little burnt out from the previous series entrants, I implore you to give this one a go. It’s extra layer of visual and adventure content adds just enough to maintain a fresh perspective.
Unmasked has plenty of appeal, just a shame that Warner Bros. owns both IP’s … can you imagine if they got their hands on Marvel? Then again, if LEGO can …