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Have You Played... Scribblenauts Unlimited?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The first time I played Scribblenauts was at the Warner booth at E3 in 2009. E3 is awful, and it stood out like a ray of golden light, emitted from a tiny DS station hidden behind their booth proper. Word of mouth saw journalists nudging each other to go check it out – this little impossible miracle of a game, where anything you typed in would appear, animated, in the game. No one believed it, everyone came away in awe. The game – it wasn’t so great. The magic – it was breathtaking.

By the time the series reached PC, it had figured out how to be a good game too. That was Scribblenauts Unlimited.

When it works.

That’s the great catch of this series. A 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer, in which anything you type can appear. And the boundaries of “anything” go farther than you’d think. I can only assume creators 5th Cell have some giant factory of enslaved bunny rabbits, being forced to draw hundreds of thousands pictures of… everything. Then another where they animate them, and recognise their individual properties so they interact with the world and other things in appropriate ways. Or perhaps they made the game for one hundred years, but then travelled back in time to release it? It certainly doesn’t seem feasible, no matter how much it exists.

So if your task is to make a fireman happy, you can likely achieve this with something fireman related, like a truck or hose. But you might equally find success by offering him a “friendly wife”. Or a party. Want to defeat a dragon that’s burning people? Create a favourite breed of dinosaur. Or a massive werewolf. Or Cthulhu. Or God.

When it doesn’t work – when something brilliant you thought of isn’t recognised by the game – the magic comes crumbling down around you. But then you discover that putting in a time machine actually works, and then see who would win in a fight between Dracula and a killer porcupine.

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John Walker

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