Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure marks the first time developer 5th Cell's charming word-focused puzzle game has been paired up with a licensed property. It's a heck of a pairing that mixes the abilities of series protagonist Maxwell, who has a magical notepad that lets him create anything, with traditional superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and a host of others.
The story for Scribblenauts Unmasked begins with Maxwell and his sister Lily. Big-time comic fans want to use Lily's transportation abilities to teleport into the world of their favorite comic books. This puts them smack dab in Gotham City, and for the entirety of the game, you'll work out of the Batcave, secret hideout of DC Comics superhero Batman.
Upon their arrival, Maxwell and Lily learn that Doppelganger, an evil version of Maxwell, has also hitched a ride into the DC universe and is wreaking havoc with notable villains like Cheetah, Joker, Lex Luthor and Sinestro. Maxwell and Lily team up with the Justice League to combat these villains, all the while gathering enough Starites to re-power Lily's magical globe so they can return home.
The world map, accessible via an icon on the HUD through the Wii U GamePad, contains a number of notable DC cities. You'll be able to traverse Atlantis, Central City, Gotham, Metropolis, and more, with each location filled with notable landmarks. Also filling the city streets are citizens in need of help and the occasional superhero or supervillain. Just like the previous Scribblenauts titles, a big component of the gameplay is helping those in need, usually by performing feats with Maxwell's magical notepad.
Citizen requests run the gamut from specific items, like food and weapons, to more puzzle-based requests that require Maxwell to overcome a particular obstacle or other hazard. The initial introduction to these tasks can cause some head-scratching depending on your familiarity with the series, but around the midway point, things start to click as you get accustomed to the vocabulary and learn to anticipate what certain words produce.
One of the biggest features from the previous title, Scribblenauts Unlimited, returns: the ability to attach adjectives to existing items or characters. For instance, after tapping Maxwell, you can type in the adjective "flying" so he'll fly. You can light enemies on fire with the adjective "burning" or knock them out cold with the word "sleepy." There are times when the ability to add an adjective to characters and items feels almost too powerful, but breaking the game with particular words and combinations is almost an expected feature for Scribblenauts at this point.
One of the standout features about Scribblenauts Unmasked is the huge hero and villain list. Even as a pretty big comic fan, I encountered unfamiliar characters and teams. You can opt to create these heroes and villains from scratch by manually typing in their names, but there's a handy option via the Bat Computer that's accessible anytime. This gives you a complete list of characters, and you can break down search parameters into categories like hero, villain, and teams to make your searches more manageable.
There are also a lot of character variants available. With Superman, you can summon variants from universes like Earth One, Kingdom Come and Red Son, along with All-Star Superman, Blue and Red Superman, and Cyborg Superman. The same goes for Batman, with versions like Dark Knight Returns, or a whole host of Green Lanterns ranging from Alan Scott to Guy Gardner. The list of available characters is massive, and you'll have little trouble finding your favorites. I was surprised to see a couple of omissions, like Impulse from the speedsters in the Flash family, but the expansive roster more than makes up for that.
I also really enjoyed the character designs and how well the DC characters fit the Scribblenauts universe. Despite the game sporting some simplified character designs, you'll have no trouble telling the difference between the variants and multi-character combinations. There are also key differences in powers and abilities that are noticeable when these characters are summoned. While high-powered heroes like Superman can take down most villains, he isn't an instant-win option for every scenario. The balance of powers and abilities is handled pretty well in Scribblenauts Unmasked.
While Scribblenauts Unmasked is divided into a series of stages represented by various cities, there's no set order in how you tackle them. You'll start off with Gotham and move into Metropolis, but from there, the game becomes somewhat open-ended. The only real restriction is that you'll need to unlock that area via reputation points, which are earned by completing different tasks in previously unlocked worlds. These points come in three variations, with most tasks earning you 100 points or more upon completion. You can earn bonus points if greeted by Mr. Mxyzptlk, who places certain restrictions on Maxwell's notepad, such as only allowing words beginning with N or not allowing you to use adjectives.
There's a decent variety to the tasks, but it didn't take long to see certain objectives repeat. The story-focused missions that earn Starites aren't particularly long or noteworthy, but they usually involve helping a hero fight against his or her archnemesis while you keep Doppelganger busy in a battle of words. As with the Scribblenauts titles before it, much of the fun in Scribblenauts Unmasked comes from playing around with the world, utilizing the expansive dictionary, and putting your imagination to work. If you're looking for a more structured, level-by-level game, this is not it.
The Wii U version is excellent thanks to the GamePad control and its touch-screen. While I prefer my Scribblenauts on the DS or 3DS, the GamePad is a suitable replacement. This stems from using the touch-screen as a functional way to type word entries, which is far more suitable than using a standard controller for input.
The only downside is that I tended to focus solely on the GamePad while playing and paid little attention to the TV output, which defeats the need for this to be released on a home console as opposed to a handheld device. Since this isn't a title that pushes graphics to a new level, I don't see much need to recommend this iteration over the one on the handheld 3DS, at least when it comes to functionality. There's a creator tool that's exclusive to the Wii U and PC versions, but that seems to be the biggest difference between the three.
With that said, if you're dead set on the Wii U or it's the only platform available, there's nothing wrong with this version of Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure. This is a really fun mash-up that leverages the DC Comics license quite well, and it's sure to make any comics fan happy. Your love for the game will likely hinge on whether you're a fan of the comic characters, but even without that license, this is another enjoyable Scribblenauts romp.
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