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Review: Scribblenauts Unlimited – an open sandbox for creativity on iOS

The imagination-powered open world puzzler is back

Price: $4.99/£3.99
Version: 1.0
Size: 517 MB
Developer: Warner Bros.
Platform: iPhone and iPad

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In Scribblenauts, you’re in possession of a magical notepad that brings to life whatever you write in it. You can then use these conjured items to solve puzzles. If you’ve not played a Scribblenauts game before, it’s an amazing feeling to be able to summon objects and creatures at will. More than just an action puzzler, though, this is a game about creativity. It provides a framework to do – within limits – anything you want.


Collect starites to stop your sister turning to stone!

The story is largely inconsequential: after pranking an elderly mystic, our protagonist Max has to collect enough ‘starites’ to free his sister from a lesson-teaching curse. The starites represent kindness, and so to collect them requires you to perform as many good deeds as you can. Help out enough strangers and you can reverse the spell. Isn’t that nice?

The puzzles are, for the most part, almost painfully straightforward. Oh, that guy needs a ride for his date? Just type ‘car’ and you’re done. Or you could summon him a gold hovercraft to achieve the same goal. Scribblenauts is what you make of it.


There are a ton of levels, unlocked as you complete challenges

The game understands adjectives, too – so you can ask for a wooden spaceship or a rainbow unicorn, for example. You’re not limited to just one adjective, either: angry tiny pink armed robot dragon is a valid choice. This is really the biggest improvement to the gameplay since the very first Scribblenauts game in 2009.

What’s frustrating is when the game doesn’t get what you’re trying to do. One chap wanted protection from the school bully, but after building him a bomb shelter in the gym he just stood there looking gormless. What gives?


Summoning a ‘beautiful zombie’ distracts Medusa from her evil ways

Summoning living creatures to see how they interact is a great part of Scribblenauts, and could almost be a whole game by itself. It’s good for settling those “who would win in a fight?” style arguments – you just have to be careful not to get caught in the crossfire as Cthulhu dukes it out against a giant steel minotaur (spoiler: Cthulhu won and wouldn’t stop his rampage until God himself intervened).

This is a big game, with dozens of themed locations to unlock and explore. Each contains a new set of characters in need of help, as well as a bumper challenge comprised of a series of consecutive tasks. The gameplay is the same in every location, mind you, and you get an unlimited dictionary of words from the word go. You can let your imagination run wild for hours in the very first stage, or plough through the levels for a change of scene.


What happens in space, stays in space…

There are over 200 achievement-style objectives that can be earned in any location by triggering certain amusing actions. Some of these are really good fun, and are listed in the pause menu as inspiration if you’re drawing a creative blank.

If you tire of playing as Maxwell, you can unlock additional family members or grab some wackier playable characters (like Corporate Werewolf or Robo Einsten) via an in-app purchase. You can also pay to unlock some extra ‘playgrounds,’ which are basically unpopulated landscapes to summon stuff in. Good stuff but certainly not a necessary purchase.


Need something for surgery? Giant hammer it is, then!

It’s worth noting that this is a port of a three-year old game – so while hardcore fans of the series may have already played this version, $5 is a steal for something still costing several times that for Nintendo DS.

Scribblenauts Unlimited is a great introduction to the series, and if this were a brand new game we’re sure we’d be raving about it – but if you can live without the narrative and the extra levels, you can still get pretty much the same core experience from the previous game, Scribblenauts Remix ($0.99/£0.79).