I really admire what the Scribblenauts franchise has tried to accomplish. A puzzle game where the solution can be anything you can imagine? Sounds awesome! And it was awesome when the first Scribblenauts hit the scene a few years back. After a little while and a few sequels, the formula needed a shot in the arm. Which is where Scribblenauts: Unmasked comes in. On paper it sounds as awesome as the original concept originally did; combine every inch of DC Comics lore with a puzzle game that gives you the world with the tap of a letter or two? Sounds awesome! Unfortunately, the end result doesn't live up to the idea.
Scribblenauts: Unmasked again puts the player in the shoes of Maxwell, the ever more recognizable kid with the funny red hat and magic pencil. In a short kickoff cutscene, Maxwell and younger sister Lily are sucked into the world of their favorite comic books and must escape using their magic pencil and mystical fast travel globe, respectively, to get home. What lies ahead are about 12 levels, all set in different parts of the DC Universe and all involving some kind of problem to be fixed or villain to be vanquished. With the Wii U gamepad as an input device, Maxwell can create literally anything out of thin air to solve puzzles, and what is, at first, inspired quickly turns into a "ugh... more of this?" slog.
Scribblenauts: Unmasked's gameplay falls short for two reasons: It doesn't inspire or require the kind experimentation you automatically assume you'll need and even when it does, it either holds your hand or is a repeat of something you've just done. Most of the main world puzzles can be solved with a single obvious object, and the game will go to great lengths to ensure that even the stupidest, most illiterate of gamers won't miss the answer on the first try. Fighting enemies is much the same, though the battles frustrate due to control issues, in addition to easy solutions. The addition of adjectives makes the puzzles and battles even easier, and inputs like "giant T-Rex" or "deep quicksand" get the job done almost every time. And once you've found a set of words that seem to always work, you'll lazily keep coming back to them, just to get to the next stage where you'll use them all over again.
The too-easy, anti-creativity gameplay seems even more frustrating when you look at how much obvious time and effort went into perfecting the DC Universe tie-in. Almost every DC character you can think of is just a few taps away, and it's easy to see that the Unmasked team have a healthy love for the comics universe. Quick! Think of any Batman iteration! Chances are you'll see him in Unmasked. Even the most obscure heroes and villains show up, as do some of their creators (Jim Lee can be summoned -weird). If we were grading Unmasked only on its use of the DC license, it would be an A+. Sadly, the game itself can't match the impressive roster of DC greats.
Playing through Scribblenauts: Unmasked wasn't painful, but it wasn't at all thrilling, either. The hand-holding makes every stage feel like a tutorial and the ease of progression stomps out any kind of creative solutions in favor of blah, again-and-again puzzle solving objects. Scribblenauts is a series that always sounds better on paper than it ends up being, and Unmasked is the latest game to stick with that tradition.
Final Rating: 67%. An idea that sounds better on paper, which isn't good for a comic book inspired game.