Reviewing games that are targeted at a younger audience is always problematic. As adults we have a different set of benchmarks that we apply to games. In fact most sites apply a standard formula of game play, graphics, and sound. The danger is of course is that these are viewed through the eyes of an adult and forget that most children play games on the basis of what they consider to be fun.
To get around this problem here at NZGamer.com we try to canvas a group of children and observe their reactions when playing a game. Often the results are different from our own experience of playing the game. Scribblenauts:Unmasked is one of these games.
The Scribblenaut series is a cartoon based platform game which is all about solving puzzles using words. Confronted with a baddy, you can chose to place the word “tiny” on him to bring him down to size, or you could place “giant” on yourself for the opposite effect. It’s a simple mechanic which, with a very large game dictionary of words, allows players to come up with lots of innovative ways to solve problems.
This latest release, Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, sees our hero Maxwell and sister Lily transported into the DC Universe. And what an universe it is! The game features over 2,000 characters and objects from the DC stable. There are the stars of course; Batman, Superman, Joker and Wonder Woman. Then there are also randoms, like Aqua man, Green Lantern, and Bat Girl. Then of course there is all the rest of the Super League, both good and evil (there are all 130 characters from the Green Lantern Universe as an example).
The game’s design is cartoon cell based and for the younger set it's like playing your own version of a Sunday morning cartoon. The ability to solve puzzles your way is a huge attraction. As an adult we often defer to the obvious while children seem to be willing to try the bizarre and the obscure - while laughing in delight at the outcome. I found this aspect of the game frustrating as an adult. What I thought were obvious and logical solutions to a puzzle were either not in the game object dictionary or just did not work. A simple puzzle to get an overweight superhero fit involved not exercise, running or low fat yoghurt - but rather giving him a dumb bell. As an adult I find this frustrating, while the younger ones found it a challenge, but something that seemed to hold their interest.
The game punishes you for using the same solution twice in the same area by giving you only 50% of reputation earned (proving you can solve all problems with a gun, but it is less rewarding). The missions can seem to be unrelated and often nonsensical (me, a Superhero, fixing the commissioner's car?) but there is a lot to do and the ability to go back to previously completed areas and complete more randomly created missions means there is a lot of replayability.
The game also has a Superhero creator. It’s a very comprehensive character creator where you take the features and costumes from the stable of heroes and mix and match them, while also attributing them different powers. Better still you can share these online for others to drop into their own game. This is almost a game in itself.
Visually this is an appealing game. It won't win awards for visuals or tax your graphics card, but for its target audience it hits the mark perfectly. The game covers a lot of the areas of the DC Universe from Gotham City, Metropolis and even to the home planet of Green Lantern League. The audio is unassuming and largely musical. Object effects are delivered in the classic cartoon style of audio bubbles (Keerach!, Kapow!)
As an adult I would mark this game down as I struggle with the quirky logic and frankly after awhile it failed to hold my attention. Conversely the opinion of trialists was that the game was interesting, and challenging, and they rated it reasonably highly. For its target audience then, this game is a winner. The up sell also has to be the education value. The game teaches new words and encourages them along the way to become more proficient at using a keyboard.
The game is available from Steam at USD $39.99