I have a lot of action figures. Every once in a while I like to pull them down from their shelves or out of their boxes. I admire each one. Maybe I’ll pose then and take a few pictures. Then I get bored and put them away again. Playing Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure feels just like that.
Nearly the entire DC Comics universe is at my fingertipes. All I have to do is type in a name, and the character appears. Type in “Captain Carrot,” and DC’s superheroic alternate-dimension rabbit appears. Type in “Batman” and five pages of choices pop up, covering every important variation on the kid with murdered parents theme. There are so many Supermen.
I summon them onto stages modelled after iconic DC Comics locations — Metropolis, Arkham Aslyum, Superman’s Fortress of Random Wandering NPCs. They stand there. Maybe I add some adjectives to the mix. “Kryptonian Batman,” that sounds exciting. It’s not really.
Aside from the characters that appear in the game’s incredibly short main story mode or in the unlockable supplemental origin stories, the DC Comics characters the player summons with their magic notepad don’t do a whole lot. They are programmed to recognise allies and attack enemies, leading to grand, chaotic melees packed with as many combatants as you can imagine, but ultimately it’s a lot of bumping into or shooting each other with coloured beams of light until one side or the other falls.
The story accompanying this interactive electronic superhero reference program is woefully brief. Max with his magic physical manifestation notebook and his sister Lily, keeper of the mystical teleportation globe, wish themselves into the world of DC Comics, where the globe shatters into 12 pieces of Starite. Teaming up with DC’s finest, Max and Lily must find the pieces before the evil force aligned against them do, harnessing its awesome power for evil.
Would that the story have been the game’s primary focus, I might have had a much better time of it. Testing Max’s magic notepad against the power of DC’s greatest villains is a blast, and some of the scenarios are quite inventive.
But the focus here really seems to be on the random quests that pop up at the various locations. Quests that generally have nothing to do with DC Comics characters at all.
It’s all in the name of gaining points, used to unlock new levels so you collect Starites so you can then aimlessly wander the word, performing ridiculously simple tasks for someone with the power to shape reality.
There’s no real challenge here — there really hasn’t been much of one since developer 5th Cell added adjectives in Super Scribblenauts. It’s even easier now, with adjectives like “Kryptonian” joining the previously established “dead” as the most-used words of the game, followed closely by “flying” and “Green Lantern Corps.”
Utilising the same randomised quests as in Scribblenauts Unlimited is where Unmasked stumbles the most. The game features a database of nearly every hero and villain in DC Comics history. That should have been tapped for these quests. Instead of “drag this random thing over here,” why not something along the lines of “Superman is looking for one of his most powerful foes, but he isn’t quite sure which one it is. Summon a powerful foe of Superman.” There are a few missions that come close to this sort of trivia challenge hybrid gameplay, but they are few and far between. Here I am, the power of a god, handing out doughnuts to game developers.
Standing next to Batman in the Batcave, I open up my notebook and write “Martha Wayne” and “Thomas Wayne.” I bring his dead parents back to life. They are standing right there, noticeably free of bullet holes. He does not react in the slightest. Missed opportunities abound. This could have been a great game. Instead it’s a curious diversion.
I had a lot of fun trying to stump Scribblenauts Unmasked during my pre-launch demo, and I still have fun doing it, as long as I kept it short. After that I’m done with my toys, and they go back on the shelf or into their boxes, waiting for the day I dust them off to play again.