I’m the player “Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure” was made for. Not only do I love DC Comics, I’ve been a fan of “Scribblenauts” since developer 5TH Cell released the first game on the Nintendo DS, and all the news leading up to “Scribblenauts Unmasked” made the game seem like it would be one of the greatest installments in the series yet. It would include a vast amount of DC characters, both well-known and obscure. It would take players to some of the most iconic locations in DC history, like Gotham City, Metropolis and Atlantis. Best of all, it would include the classic “Scribblenauts” gameplay, forcing players to use their imagination to solve puzzles. It seemed the entire game was primed for success, but, unfortunately, it’s all a bit of a disappointment.
Conceptually, “Scribblenauts Unmasked” is a slam-dunk. You play as Maxwell, a boy with a magical notebook that brings anything he writes to life. Along with his sister Lily, Maxwell gets sucked into the DC Universe, allowing him to draw on their rich mythology to defeat his evil doppleganger, who has teamed up with the villains of the DCU. As in previous installments, solving puzzles involves spelling out whatever you can imagine, but here we have the added bonus of being able to summon nearly any DC hero or object imaginable. Seriously — you can summon Mogo the Green Lantern Planet, Microwavabelle, Matter-Eater Lad, B’dg and more. It’s truly incredible how much 5TH Cell was able to fit into this game.
However, part of the problem with “Scribblenauts Unmasked” is the delivery of the content and puzzles. The puzzles themselves are actually all wonderful, incredibly faitful to the DC Universe, and very few of them feel like they’re out of left field for “Scribblenauts.” However, the way they’re delivered feels somewhat backwards. In each world, there’s a special collectible (a Starite) for players to find, a goal which usually involves fighting a DC villain. Although this puzzle remains unchanged from level to level, every other puzzle in the zone continuously switches out every time players exit a level and return. As a result, there’s no real way to measure progress. Even worse is the alert letting the player know that Maxwell is needed somewhere else, popping up sporadically for no apparent reason. If you were in the middle of solving a puzzle, you lose all your progress automatically, and there’s no real way of knowing when you might encounter it again. It makes achieving any sort of a sense of accomplishment incredibly difficult and very frustrating.
5TH Cell is clearly a fan of DC, though. As an added wrinkle to gameplay, Mister Mxyzptlk will occasionally show up to challenge your imagination, restricting usage of a word group in exchange for for bonus points. For example, to solve puzzles in a zone, Mxyzptlk might only allow you to summon DC-related characters and items. It would be a wonderful added bonus to the game if the core puzzle experience wasn’t so frustrating.
In order to unlock worlds, players need to amass reputation points to three different major locations: Bat-Locations, Superman-Locations and Justice League locations. There are about 12 locations, and the game can be finished in roughly 10 hours of play. However, the gameplay feels incredibly disorganized, despite the high replayability factor, and feels much more scattered than expected after playing “Scribblenauts Unlimited,” the previous installment of the series.
All that said, the production quality of the game is the best yet for the series. There’s a reason DC Collectibles has announced a set of blind-box vinyl toys in the styles of “Scribblenauts Unmasked” — the 5TH Cell designs of the DC Heroes and villains are wonderfully cute and are easily the strongest, most appealing aspect of the game.
Adding to the replayability factor of “Unmasked” is the Hero Creator, which allows users to create their own objects and heroes, save them, and call upon them during regular gameplay. The feature was first included in “Scribblenauts Unlimited,” but it’s been vastly improved by the addition of DC Comics-related objects which can be manipulated in any way users see fit. It’s even possible to edit some of the 5TH Cell development team and the folks over at DC Comics — like Chief Creative Officer and “Justice League” scribe Geoff Johns.
“Scribblenauts Unmasked” had a lot of potential, but it ultimately falls flat due to disorganized design and frustrating resets masquerading as replay value. At the very least, the game will demonstrate what a novice you are when it comes to DC Comics trivia.
IS IT BETTER THAN…
Actually, yes. While “Unmasked” has its fair share of faults in terms of gameplay, the addition of proper nouns to the spelling roster is compelling enough that the DC Comics version of “Scribblenauts” gets the nod over the more generic “Unlimited.” Also, did I mention you can summon Mogo? And caveman Batman? And Matter-Eater Lad? It’s tough to beat that.
…”LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes Unite”?
No. “LEGO Batman 2” imbued its vast roster with a personality and powers that “Unmasked” just can’t match. Even without looking at the gameplay aspect of both games, “Unmasked” goes for quantity while “LEGO Batman 2” opted for quality in terms of characters and imbuing them with personality and life. Hearing John Williams’ classic “Superman” theme when taking control of the Man of Steel in flight is just something that can’t be matched with the gameplay of “Scribblenauts Unmasked.” Although, you can make a giant, radioactive Superman.
…”The DC Comics Encyclopedia”?
Yes. “Scribblenauts Unmasked” has far more data than the DK “DC Comics Encyclopedia” ever had, and players can see all 2000+ DC-related objects they can spawn in the Batcomputer with bios and more. It’s really an incredible source for research, and definitely excels as a database — much more so than nearly any print source around.
“Scribblenauts Unmasked” is available now for PC, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.