Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Scribblenauts Unlimited

Scribblenauts Unlimited

Spring 2013 Video Games
Ages: 10 & Up
Price: $59.99
Gaming System: 3DS/PC

This follow up to the original Nintendo DS Scribblenauts and Super Scribblenauts titles takes an already innovative video gaming premise and sets it free, creatively speaking. In Scribblenauts games, players create objects with words. Enter a noun, and an image of it will appear on the screen. Imagine that! The new Unlimited version lets player discover the power not just of nouns, but multiple adjectives, too. It allows them to create objects and alter them, change them, enlarge them, color them, and invigorate them.

Go ahead, create a clown. Now make him fat or skinny. Make him cry. Be scary. Laugh. How about the clown’s balloons? Let’s make them gigantic and red and floating away! That’s the basic idea of the gameplay, and we could actually make all that happen. The intro scene gives players space to practice and see what they can make. Once the real game begins, there is some structure to this creative technology. There are also lots of prompts and hints along the way to keep things from becoming frustrating, and once you get the hang of it, the game can almost become too easy.

Scribblenauts Unlimited starts with a storyline about kids Maxwell and Lily inheriting their adventurer grandparent’s Magic Notebook, which empowers them to make words come to life. Maxwell uses it to play a trick on an old wizard, who then casts a petrifying spell on Lily. To break the spell, Maxwell has to go out into the huge, side-scrolling, free-roaming world and earn “starites” by completing tasks, solving puzzles and, mostly, making people happy. It is an unusually sweet premise for a video game.

Maxwell moves from one predicament or unhappy character to the next and, by conjuring up objects with words, solves the problem at hand or makes his new friend happy. When a kitty is stuck in a tree, for instance, you help Maxwell get it down by writing “ladder,” or “hot air balloon,” or “rope” to climb, or any of an unlimited number of possible solutions—some of which work and some that do not. Some of the challenges are as easy as creating entertainment for a bored boy, while others require you to help an unemployed man find work. The possibilities seem endless. Players can store the objects they create in the magic backpack for later use.

This is an amazingly extensive game with forty-one levels to explore, from cities and castles to jungles and farms, and more than 550 tasks or puzzles to solve. The game recognizes thousands of objects and instantly translates into a graphics. What’s subversively cool about Scribblenauts Unlimited is that as players beat the learning curve, and learn that the most obvious or mundane solutions almost always solve any problem, they also start learning to push the envelope of imagination, creating whacky and wild objects or unusual characters. In other words (as it were), they test the limits. Don’t worry, the game doesn’t allow obscenities, vulgarities or sexual content, though you can create a gun and other weapons.

We can only raise minor criticisms of Scribblenauts Unlimited. For one, the Windows version runs on Steam, the online gaming platform that enables you to share customized objects. But Steam is a lengthy install which, unless you’re an avid gamer, is not intuitive.. Another negative is that the game moves sort of slowly, at times like everything’s happening under water.That said, the PC version has its merits, including a dynamic Object Editor (also featured in the Wii U version of the game) that lets you create your own objects or change objects or characters already existing in the game. The Nintendo 3DS version doesn’t have that. And, since the basis of the game is keying in words, the keyboard-equipped PC makes it far easier to do that than it is on the stylus-constrained DS3 or the home console Wii U. The PC and Wii U versions also have sharp HD graphics to which the small-screen 3DS can’t compare.

For out-of-the-box creativity, this unusually inventive and smart game takes problem-solving and practical word-use fun to an admirable new level. If you are familiar with the previous DS versions of the game, try out the PC or Wii U versions for a worthy update.

Don Oldenburg   ©2013 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

Look for this product at:
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

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