A sequel that emphasizes the franchise’s strengths in a terrific new setting, Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure sees the heroic wordsmith Maxwell relocated to the expansive DC Universe, where a sinister doppelganger runs amuck in Gotham City alongside the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery. Allying with Bruce Wayne and other DC superheroes, who point out that Maxwell is gifted with similar superpowers, the magic-notebook-endowed warrior traverses the comic-book world, battling villains to restore peace and justice.
What might have been an assembly-line, recherché plot serves as a love letter to fans, covering the vast history of the DC Universe with both respect and a sense of humor (consider that everything including vicious serial killer Victor Zsasz is cutely rendered in the gorgeous hand-drawn Scribblenauts style). That isn’t to say that the game is inaccessible to outsiders, as it introduces each character and environment smartly and is complete with a detailed encyclopedia of the DC universe, with concise bite-sized entries about nearly every character, object, and location one could imagine, all of which serve as new additions to Maxwell’s word arsenal. Core gameplay remains identical: Maxwell can write any words in his notebook to physically manifest them in the 2D world, including any creature, object, or person imaginable, and use them to interact with the environment or solve puzzles. Within the world of DC Comics, each memorable locale serves as a unique playset for Maxwell’s abilities, where one can either interact with superheroes or citizens to solve puzzles, take to specialized story-driven missions (each one beating the last in imaginativeness and inventiveness), or merely explore and create.
The puzzles remain as varied as ever, with creativity incentivized by docking points for reused objects and extra acclaim for particularly inventive solutions. (For example, why call on one superhero to battle a killer robot when you can call on the entire Justice League? If a Green Lantern is weak against anything yellow, why make a yellow sword when you can summon a yellow Tyrannosaurus Rex?) In addition to core story with a lengthy playtime, each area is replayable with randomly generated characters and side activities. The game’s only downfalls are mostly minor technical issues (most commonly unskippable cutscenes) and the rare obtuse solution or missing word. In the end, I can think of no other series which holds equal appeal for adults and children alike, nor one that rewards creativity above all else, and the crossover with the DC Universe here feels fruitfully fitting instead of contrived. What might have been a simpleminded and cheap cash-in is instead one of the best games of the year.