Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U)
Maxwell hides incredible powers beneath his unassuming stature. When he fancies eating a hot dog, a tasty treat materializes into existence, and if he dreams bigger--say, with a prehistoric slant--he can conjure his trusted dinosaur, ready to ride. Objects and creatures spring forth from his magical notebook, easily modified with a clever adjective or two, and he uses this menagerie to solve the troubles plaguing his compatriots. The inherent joy of flexing your creative might makes Scribblenauts Unlimited a ridiculous delight, though the pleasures never reach their destined zenith. Because there are no boundaries to rein you in, puzzles rarely demand more than silly suggestions, putting the impetus for enjoyment on your ability to create fun within this off-the-wall sandbox.
Immaturity can infect even the purest of souls, and Maxwell finds himself in an unenviable position when the juvenile bug bites him. Using his magical notebook for a hoax, he creates a rotten apple for a starving man dressed in tattered rags. Lo and behold, upon seeing a worm squirm from the decayed skin, the man reveals his true self, a wronged sorcerer quick to anger. In a flash, rock crusts over sister Lily, slowly transforming her into a helpless statue, and Maxwell is set off on a quest to cure her. Only through kind deeds can his bad act be reversed, so he visits citizens in need of a helping hand and provides his services to win back the goodwill he needlessly lost.
Though only the beginning and ending sequences involve much in the way of plot development, the story weaves its way throughout this adventure. Collecting starites from satisfied people opens diverse worlds to explore, and each time new stages become available, you see how close Lily is to becoming completely petrified. Such a reminder solidifies that there's a reason for your goofy hijinks, so the narrative hook introduced in this installment of Scribblenauts helps push you through this adventure.
Despite this narrative impetus, Scribblenauts Unlimited has only a loose structure. You choose which stage on the map you want to visit, and you can reach the ending even before visiting every place. Each level is a sandbox, giving you ample opportunity to explore the environment or conjure whatever amusing notion comes to mind. Words written in your notebook spring to life, and with tens of thousands of different items recognized, you'll still be making discoveries hours into the adventure. Try bringing various breeds of dogs to life, and then seeing which look better in a top hat. Or turn that chocolate cake invisible because any calorie you can't see can't affect you. Travel through time or teleport to another place; there are few rules, so much of the appeal lies in experimentation.
When you tap on an animal or person in distress, you receive an objective, and that's when puzzle solving takes over. In a medieval dungeon, a public execution is taking place, and you're the chosen savior of the miscreant in chains. If you happen upon a lost underwater city, Poseidon requires your help in settling kingly matters. A frog needs a boost to cross the river, a baby goat can't keep up with its mama, and someone has to collect those crystal bones. The diverse problems urge you to scan your vocabulary to find the perfect word. Cycling between themes such as sports, farming, and animal rescue keeps you on your toes, and the sheer variety creates a pleasing, anything-goes atmosphere.
Bringing happiness to others is, in itself, enjoyable, but after a few hours of fiddling around, you enter a predictable groove. Scribblenauts Unlimited offers unrestrained freedom, but having such powers means that even the most difficult situations can be conquered with the flick of a stylus. Sticking a coach in the same cell as a convicted athlete is a quick way to keep both parties happily incarcerated, and you breeze through most situations by going with your instincts. However, Scribblenauts Unlimited often thwarts your attempts at being creative. It's disheartening when a dancing bear won't cheer a sad clown, or when a hurt girlfriend won't accept a gabby diamond as a peace offering, and meeting such barriers discourages you from thinking outside the box on the next puzzle.
Scribblenauts veers on the easy side and too often can't fulfill your craziest fantasies, but that doesn't halt the good times. Wackiness abounds, and that's the reason to keep messing around with your powerful notebook. One neat aspect has you solving riddles separate from the citizens in distress. At any time, you can pause the game to scroll through bonus objectives, and these often require a specific answer that can prove to be a real head-scratcher. Just don't be embarrassed if you have to consult a friend to discover what the correct answer to "What's black and white and red all over" is. And, no, it's not a zebra wearing a red saddle.
For those who feel that the nearly unlimited freedom offered in the main adventure is still stifling, creation tools let you craft your own objects. Start with an item already in the game, add any other object into the mix, shrink or enlarge until the size is perfect, go nuts with the paintbrush, tinker with your creation's traits, and then come up with a ridiculous name for your monster. Yes, you can finally bring a purple monkey dishwasher to life, and even use it to solve a puzzle. It's a neat feature that allows you to be as imaginative as you want, and does a good job of plugging holes when you find that a real object wasn't properly represented in the in-game dictionary.
Sadly, as entertaining as Scribblenauts Unlimited can be, it doesn't reach its full potential. It's ultimately your duty to provide the fun because the included puzzles rarely test your skills, and though the extreme flexibility means it's inherently fun just to mess around, that does grow tiresome too quickly. Still, there's a lot of love about this latest installment, and if you have a warped sense of humor and friends eager to share in the twisted good times, Scribblenauts Unlimited provides another good outlet for your silly tinkering.