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Write it down: 'Scribblenauts Unmasked' conjures up all kinds of fun

There are video games my kids are not allowed to play (anything with an M rating), games that I'll let them play (anything with Legos), games that I love playing with them (anything with Mario) and games that I'm genuinely glad they're playing.

"Scribblenauts Unmasked" fits nicely into the last of these admittedly obscure categories. The unique visuals, superhero theme and robust gameplay options make it an easy sell for kids, but parents will likely be won over by the fact that "Scribblenauts Unmasked" encourages creativity, problem solving and word skills.

After all, if a kid wants anything useful in this game, he's going to have to spell it out.

The Scribblenauts series is centered on a young boy named Maxwell, a cartoonishly cute lad who has a magical notebook that can create any object he writes in it. "Scribblenauts Unlimited" was released on the Wii U last year, and the gaming website IGN lists a community rating of 9.1 ("amazing") for the game. The site's video review called it a "wonderful little bundle of joy."

This latest installment, "Scribblenauts Unmasked," is built on superhero themes, importing more than 2,000 characters and objects from the world of DC comics. Fortunately, Maxwell and his sister, Lily, love comic books, and they're dropped in the middle of Gotham City on a quest to discover who the greatest superhero is.

There's a lot that's unique about Scribblenauts, particularly this blend with DC. Gamers will quickly get the sense that they're playing on the pages of a comic book — colorful, decidedly 2-D and complete with comment bubbles and onomatopoeia like "Thunk!" and "Pow!"

I gave one of my sons the first shot at the game. Soon, he was yelling for my help from the other room, asking how to spell "mechanic." Apparently, he needed someone to fix a vehicle, but he had to "spawn" a mechanic first by typing in the word.

In "Scribblenauts Unmasked," just about anything a kid can imagine can be used as a tool or weapon. In our first sessions, we used a rocket launcher, Superman's super breath, an apple, a porcupine, an icicle, a stealth bomber and Grandma (or, the Scribblenauts interpretation of what your grandmother would look like, which is a really old woman).

I'm sure there are limits to the database, but we haven't found many yet. The number of images the game seems to make available is definitely impressive.

(There are at least some kinds of safeguards, however, because when my boys tried to type in "poo," they weren't rewarded for their ill-advised attempt at bathroom humor.)

"Scribblenauts Unmasked" gives kids incredible creative latitude to create useful objects. They can also manipulate characters and situations by attaching adjectives. That big, scary enemy becomes a lot less formidable by applying the word "tiny" to him.

It also gives kids chances to approach scenarios critically. For example, when confronted with a giant monster insect, my son summoned "bug spray" as his weapon.

In the ocean world of Atlantis, he was tasked with disarming the boss, who carried a trident. Several attempts to find the right weapon failed, until he realized he needed a magnet. Later, he figured out that he could get rid of a giant crab by tossing a fish down a hole in the ocean floor.

Yes, it's still a video game and it's probably a stretch to label "Scribblenauts Unmasked" as educational. Still, it's gratifying to see youngsters succeed at a game by using more than the A and B buttons.

The game gives players a multitude of options right from the start. The Batcomputer, which acts as kind of a home base, is described as an "in-game encyclopedia that lists the names and descriptions of objects from the DC Universe." Player 1 has the most options with the Wii U gamepad, but up to three others can join in as "sidekicks" with traditional Wii remotes.

The game is mostly devoid of content concerns, but there is cartoonish violence — some of which comes in the form of firearms. Of course, if your kid can't spell bazooka, you won't have to worry about it.

Game: "Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure"

Platforms: Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC

Price: $59.99

Rating: E 10+ for cartoon violence and comic mischief


Twitter: @aaronshill