Scribblenauts has a unique distinction among video games for the sheer scope for the creativity it offers players. Armed with an extensive vocabulary and a book that creates whatever you can write, you solve problems. Scribblenauts Unmasked, the newest addition to the library, tries to expand this premise by dumping the library of DC comic superheroes into the conjuration dictionary, letting us call out favorite superheroes or villains and use their gear, costumes, and powers.
The operative word here is “tries.” It doesn’t really succeed, in part because it doesn’t really try to do anything else with it.
The plot is simple, and doesn’t need to be any more than that. While reading DC comics one day, Maxwell, the red-rooster-headed protagonist with the notebook that can create anything, and his sister Lily, decide to travel to the DC universe using a page from his notebook, and Lily’s world-spanning crystal teleportation globe. The result sends them into Gotham city, but shatters the globe, releasing its Starites across the DC universe – and it’s up to Maxwell, armed with the Deathnote’s less-homicidal twin, to collect them before they tempt the DC rogue’s gallery to make use of yet another cosmic power MacGuffin. Areas include Metropolis, Gotham City, Oa, the Flash’s Central City, and a few others.
Graphically, I have no complaints. Everything is colourful and fluid, and the game rarely slows down with lots of objects on the screen. The opening and closing cutscenes are well-drawn, still-panel comics, and are a nice touch. By extension, the music is suitable, with swelling orchestral-sounding tunes, with ambient laughter at Joker’s funhouse and screams at Arkham Asylum.
The extensive vocabulary of objects and creatures you can create from previous games returns. You can create an array of things, provided they’re not (non-Nintendo) copyrights, profanity, or drugs/alcohol related (but guns and radioactive materials are okay). What’s new, however, is the Bat Computer tab, which lists in similar detail DC comic superheroes and villains, along with important equipment and vehicles. Also included are an array of costumes for Maxwell’s use that change his stats as well as give him weapons and items based on the character portrayed, as well as other automatic powers. The DC library is extensive, featuring even minor characters, and over a dozen versions of big-name superheroes like Batman and Superman. And yet, for some reason, the only version of Lobo available is the new, clean-shaven, less bulky redesign that’s getting some comic fans riled up. It’s not like the goatee-sporting Main Man is any more risqué than, say, the Black Lanterns, or Oracle being crippled, so I wouldn’t buy that it’s an age rating thing.
If this sounds like an inconsequential complaint, it’s because there’s really not that much to make me overlook it. The game is what it is – you can create DC characters and have them spar for your amusement. You can steal Larfleeze’s Orange Lantern power battery and live out a fantasy of turning your enemies into orange constructs. You can beat random people with Superman’s power and Aquaman’s trident. You can create Mogo the Living Planet.
And that’s about it.
I finished the entire main game, getting all the Starites and doing some of the origin stories, in roughly eight hours of time. There are only about 10 missions in the game, mostly consisting of random events around an area, and a single scripted mission where you try to solve issues at predetermined moments of the fight. Two of these areas have nothing to do but fly around and hear superheroes quip at you. The origin stories are largely the same structure. There’s a ‘hero creator’ that lets you disassemble sprites to create new word options and new heroes, and upload your own content from the Steam Workshop, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough variety to make use of them. The events start to repeat after a while, even when you’re trying to create atypical solutions.
There’s also a few significant issues with the gameplay. Combat can feel imprecise and difficult to aim. I frequently hit allies in battle and had them turn on me. There were a few bugs, such as one in the second mission where the random dialogue refused to stop. Some missions end in failure if you perform actions that solve the problem in the “wrong” way – in a mission where I was supposed to rob Larfleeze by distracting him with food, sedating a turkey so he passes out forces you to restart the mission rather than allowing you to claim his lantern while he’s sleeping. Some events would solve themselves instantly upon entering the map, giving me points.
At $40, this is less expensive than a typical title; I can’t help but feel like this game is an attempt by DC to appeal to kids to buy DC comics, and not much else. I can’t find any multiplayer options and anything beyond the character creator – I would have liked a level editor and a mode where you could fight with other players with armies of superheroes. Eight to ten hours isn’t enough for even the youngest children to play for very long. This game simply needed more to it, and as it stands is a disappointment.