Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure (Wii U, 3DS) Review

Have you been feeling empty as of late? Perhaps it's the lack of a new review... No? Well, can you pretend that was the reason so I can feel better about myself? Here's my review of Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure.

I expected an awesome game.
I have been "DC-eived"! 

Coming off my first real introduction to the 5th Cell's Scribblenauts series with Unlimited at the Wii U's launch, I was ecstatic when word of a sequel was heading to the platform. The good news did not end there. The sequel would have the DC license attached to it, offering over 2,000 superheroes and villains from DC Comics' illustrious history, such as Batman, Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, The Joker, The Riddler, Darkseid, The Cheetah, and many more. Unfortunately, with a game series that already has thousands of unique objects to bring into protagonist Maxwell's world, the addition of DC Comics characters is nothing more than a novelty than anything else.

Scribblenauts Unmasked takes Maxwell, the owner of a coveted and powerful notebook, and his sister Lily on an adventure through the pages of DC Comics' various franchises. A doppelganger of Maxwell teams up with supervillains of all shapes and sizes to cause havoc. It's a cheerful tale that does its best to stay cutesy. Nonetheless, superhero personalities like Superman and Batman, built from decades upon decades of comics and inner monologues, end up lost in the generic and all too wordy text dialogue of Unmasked. There's little to distinguish characters from one another personality-wise.

It'd be a dog-gone shame if the Joker
and Harley got away.
The main mechanic of the Scribblenauts series is present within Unmasked. You try to solve the problems of various NPCs by writing words into Maxwell's magical notebook to have them appear in the world around him. For instance, for a group of superheroes in need of defense, Maxwell can summon a fortress to satiate their need. Later Scribblenauts games introduced the ability to add descriptive adjectives to words, so adding the word "flying" to an NPC can make it float around a level just like Superman.

Isn't that the dream of every superhero?
The dozen or so stages in the game feature one main story-related mission across various locales such as Gotham City, Metropolis, and even undersea in Aquaman's kingdom of Atlantis. Upon successful completion of these missions, a Starite is given to Maxwell. These missions have multiple parts to them, but not only are they overly wordy, but failure before reaching a checkpoint means you have to restart from the beginning, being forced to watch the opening story sequence in the process. Furthermore, a lot of these story-related missions involve combat, which is, as many Scribblenauts fans know, incredibly basic and not rewarding whatsoever.

"This is Captain Maxwell of QNBC reporting
no accidents for your evening commute home."
The random missions in Scribblenauts Unmasked are the key to unlocking new areas. As you complete the various missions, you earn points that go towards reputation. The points are divvied up in a needlessly confusing batch of three types. There's one for the Batman stages, the Superman-themed stages, and one for the Justice League stages.

When you have a series that has had more than a few sequels already, it's always nice to see some effort put into changing up the formula. It's actually quite admirable on the part of the designers, who could have easily went with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" type mentality. However, even those with the best of intentions can create something less than desirable.

Hey Flash, didn't your mother ever tell
you not to run with scissors?!
At the start of each stage, Scribblenauts Unlimited randomly picks out a batch of different missions for you to try to complete. There's a feeling of newness and uniqueness each time you enter a level. However, many of these missions either stray too far into simplicity or too far into being overly obtuse. It's no problem to write the word "parent" in Maxwell's notebook to give an orphan someone to console him. It's much less obvious to guess what word Mr. Mxyzptlk is thinking of.

Many times in stages I would automatically fail a random challenge just because something totally beyond my control would happen, such as an AI interacting with an object that, without my having clairvoyant powers, I couldn't even try to know what I was supposed to do before it made me fail the mission.

Wonder Woman's wonderful home of Themyscira.
The Object Editor of Scribblenauts Unlimited has evolved to a much improved form with Unmasked's Hero Creator. You can take pieces from one of the thousands of heroes and villains available, mix and match, colorize, scale, and assemble your dream creation. Of course, this takes some dedication to craft something worthy of the DC Comics name. Otherwise, you can stick to just downloading others' creations via the simple-to-use online sharing feature Scribblenauts Unmasked possesses.

...Have we met before?
Scribblenauts Unmasked utilizes some cute and pleasant 2D art. The Wii U version can easily handle a myriad of notebook creations on screen simultaneously. Areas in the game feature a wonderful amount of parallax layers to create a sense of depth. This is readily apparent when playing the Nintendo 3DS version. The music of Unmasked brings with it some catchy tunes, and the voice over work that bookends the game's story is well done.

For those seeking a starting point to the Scribblenauts series, there's far worse entries to jump into than Unmasked. However, for those who want the pinnacle of the series, Unmasked is also not the game you're looking for. Sure, the novelty of summoning DC Comics heroes and villains is interesting at first, but it's an interest that quickly fades. Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure just has too many faults to recommend as a must-play game, such as its flawed reputation system to unlock stages and its randomized missions being more often a bust than a boom.

[SPC Says: 6.5/10]

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