So the popular saying goes, slightly adjusted for context, Scribblenauts Unlimited is a few magical pencils short of a complete box. The third game in 5th Cell’s emergent action/puzzle series (the fourth if you count the iOS redux Scribblenauts Remix) does well to impart a conceptually exciting aspect into the popular sketch-to-solve franchise in the form of a wider, open-world exploration element, but doesn’t fully deliver on the promise of the “unlimited” descriptor in its title. Guiding the plucky cockscomb cap-wearing hero Maxwell through the his newly expanded, ever-malleable universe is just as enjoyable as it was in 2010’s delightful Super Scribblenauts, but therein lies the problem. That was two years ago, and the technological standards for the DS were markedly lower than those of the still-thoroughly untapped forces of the 3DS.
Scribblenauts Unlimited gives the impression that it possesses very few limitations, that you can venture anywhere within its colorful, eccentric macrocosm and progress through the story at your heart’s content. This isn’t exactly the case, as the game too often fumbles when rewarding any extreme creative experimentation, and occasionally corrals the player into traveling down an obviously predetermined path. A huge advancement for Scribblenauts Unlimited is the addition of an object editor that allows for the creation of over 900 unique devices that can be summoned during gameplay (think Drawn to Life, another 5th Cell property, juiced up to a sizable degree). Supposedly, no longer are you restrained to realistic nouns like rogue furniture and various modes of transport; you can design and put into effect your own personal works of art, comically naming them to call upon for later riddle-solving usages. Unfortunately, this liberating application is only available in the Wii U version of Scribblenauts Unlimited; the interactive boundaries of the patented Objectnaut core engine clearly highlighted with the good-but-not-great memory input/output capacity of the 3DS. Lamentably, I can only judge that which is presented to me, and the 3DS rendition of Scribblenauts Unlimited, while plainly satisfactory on its own terms, is a fraction of what’s offered in the Wii U’s.
As there’s more of a focus on adventuring in Scribblenauts Unlimited, so, too, is there a more detailed narrative that necessitates the central quest. Maxwell’s backstory is finally deepened, illustrating how he came into contact with his faithful wizardly drawing tools (they were gifted to him by his parents). On one particular day, Maxwell crosses somewhat of a moral line, pranking an elderly passerby with a rotten apple he doodled. Predictably, the old man is just no ordinary senior citizen, and after becoming angered responsively places a curse on Maxwell’s younger sister, Lily, who begins to gradually turn into stone. Breaking the irksome spell requires Maxwell to collect Starites, more specifically Starite Shards, singular to Scribblenauts Unlimited. These are rewarded for assisting needy NPCs with the use of your trustworthy notebook and accomplishing other sets of cartoonish conundrums. That’s another thing about the game: Its puzzles, while consistently humorous and sightly, just aren’t all that challenging. Not only that, but they rarely truly facilitate the use of your utmost imagination as this series should; typically the most apparent solution to a problem is the one that supplicates the least amount of cleverness, like a smattering of question-and-answer-style mini-games that avoid multiple-choice resolutions in favor of a one-size-fits-all quick fix.
Even as 5th Cell forgets to sharpen its tracing instruments at a number of crucial junctures, Scribblenauts Unlimited cannot be labeled a total misstep for the franchise. The game’s visuals and sound design are pleasant enough, with much of the signature unpretentious Scribblenauts charm remaining intact. Plus, the annexation of further avatar customization and a method by which to alter the functioning scale of your handiwork on the fly are thoughtful, replay value-increasing touches. It’s mildly depressing, though, that the innovative depth of the Wii U version couldn’t be replicated here outright, as 3DS owners can easily look elsewhere for a more cognitively stimulating puzzler.