iPhone Gems: Fifteen Word Games, Reviewed
Even if they’re not the flashiest games available for the iPhone and iPod touch, word games are amongst the most universally appealing: some are designed to educate us and enhance our verbal skills, while others simply offer a brief, fun break from everyday stress. Today, we’re briefly reviewing 15 word games for the iPhone and iPod touch, a number of which are based on well-known games, while others offer novel new takes on the genre thanks to Apple’s novel interface opportunities. Skip ahead to Imangi, My Word Coach, Quordy, and WordJong to see the best of the best.
Offering more than 1,000 scrambled quotes spread across six different categories, Cipher 1.0 ($3) from Plastic Games is a fairly deep cryptogram game. Following a brief tutorial, Cipher lets users choose quotes from Arts & Literature, Famous Quotes, History, Science & Technology, Sports, and Religion. Individual quotes are grouped by difficulty, with the player needing to solve easier puzzles in order to gain access to the more challenging quotes.
The main interface presents the encrypted quote at the top, with “hinted” letters appearing in blue and user-set letters in bold. A pair of scrolling lists at the bottom let the user select a letter from the quote and its corresponding actual letter to solve the puzzle, with set, undo, and more buttons, the latter offering help, hint (vowels only) and reset options. The game’s interface isn’t exactly pretty, but it’s not enough to put anyone off, and the sheer volume of puzzles contained within make it a solid value for anyone looking to pick up a cryptogram game for their iPhone or iPod touch. A more visually appealing interface and the ability to download new puzzles would make it even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
Imangi 2.0.4 ($2) from Imangi Studios is an interesting puzzle/word game in which players manipulate rows and columns of letters in order to make as many words as possible. Letters appear in an eight-by-six grid, with certain letters inside a red bubble, which denotes letters that award extra points when used in a word. Players simply slide the rows and columns of letters left and right, or up and down, respectively, tapping on each letter of a word to register it, after which the letter blocks turn green. Longer words score more points, and letters must be valid both side-to-side and top-to-bottom, similar to a crossword puzzle.
The game offers both standard and speed game modes, as well as a daily challenge puzzle and a friend challenge, in which two players can compete on the same puzzle for a high score. Four difficulty levels are available, from Beginner to Expert; online high scores are also available, and the game has been fully translated, complete with word lists, into English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Russian. Visually, Imangi is more utilitarian than flashy, but that’s okay with us—given the concentration required to play the game, and play it well, the lack of glitz isn’t a problem. Imangi is certainly challenging, but not overly intimidating, and should definitely be worthy of consideration if you’re looking for a solid word game. iLounge Rating: A-.
Among the Text Twist-style games we’ve seen, Lexitron 1.0.1 from Digicide ($2) is one of the most visually appealing, yet also one of the least likable. The problems stem not from the game’s interface, which is nicely designed, with a simple three-button start screen—instructions, game options, and a large Play button—and a decent in-game screen with six letters at the bottom, a dot-matrix-style scrolling screen in the center which shows which letters you’ve entered, a score and timer above that, and a list of words at the top.
The object of the game, as with most others of its type, is to try and create as many words as possible in the time allotted out of the six letters available. Also common is the game’s requirement that the user complete at least one six-letter word from the given characters in order to continue the game. Unfortunately, though it offers English, French, Italian, and Spanish dictionaries, they are filled with words that are on the far fringes of the average U.S. player’s vocabulary, such as “Kopeks”—one hundredth of a Russian ruble—and “pinyin”—the most commonly used Romanization system for Standard Mandarin. The bottom line is that if you haven’t heard of the word before, you’re not likely to guess it during the course of a timed game. Also slightly less than optimal is Lexitron’s audio, which includes merely adequate sound effects, and repetitive, slightly-annoying techno background music—thankfully, they can be turned off by a slider in the game options screen.
Overall, Lexitron simply doesn’t match up well against the best of its competitors. It misses on the component most essential for a great word game—a compelling dictionary—and the rest of the package simply isn’t enough to make up for it. A retooled word list, better, more varied background music, and a way to exit a game without returning to the home screen would do a lot to improve Lexitron, which currently falls short of our recommendation levels. iLounge Rating: C.
Perhaps the most ambitious of the word games we’ve seen, My Word Coach 1.0 from Gameloft ($5) is actually six games in one, all designed to help build the player’s vocabulary, or, as the game calls it, “Expression Potential.” Indeed, My Word Coach uses these games—which include spelling, word recognition, and vocabulary definition exercises—to both judge what the player’s current verbal skills are, and improve them. Education aside, the games themselves are quite enjoyable.
For example, one has the player quickly match a definition to a word, while another gives the player a box of floating letters and a definition, asking him or her to identify and correctly spell the word, while still another is a letter drop-style game, which lists words at the bottom and asks the player to spell them as quickly as possible. Each game is available in three difficulty levels, which unlock as the player improves their skills, and each is best-in-class quality in terms of interface design and responsiveness. After each game, players are also given a list of the words they just saw, and can tap on any to get the correct definition. The game keeps track of the player’s daily progress, offering a daily goal of words to correctly name, identify, or assemble; it even recommends that the user stop playing once the goals are reached in order to maximize retention.
While My Word Coach may seem designed for children, we enjoyed playing it, too; with a 16,800-entry word list culled from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, it was quite robust in its variety. A personal “coach” appears after each game to provide encouragement, and also offers tips along the way. As polished as any word game we’ve seen for the iPhone and iPod touch, My Word Coach offers a variety of gaming options and opportunities for learning that surpass any of its peers. Those looking for a particular style of game, like Text Twist or Word Hunt, may be disappointed, but if you’re simply looking for a deep, brain-stimulating word game, you’d be hard pressed to find one better than My Word Coach. iLounge Rating: A.
As one of two word games we’ve reviewed from the same developer, Pyrus 1.0.1 ($2) from Digicide is both the more original and the more enjoyable. The premise of Pyrus is simple: players are given a timer with 15 seconds on it, and a screen with five letters placed on five different stones. To spell words, players must tap and hold the letters of the word, in order, lifting their fingers off all the letters at once to submit the word. Three-letter words add three seconds to the timer, four-letter words add five, and five-letter words add seven seconds; bonuses increase as more five-letter words are entered consecutively. The score is increased similarly, with the object being to keep the game going for as long as possible, in order to amass the most points.
Fortunately, whether it’s due to the three-letter minimum or five-letter maximum, Pyrus does not seem to suffer from the same dictionary problems as Digicide’s other word game Lexitron. Indeed, the speed element of the game means that users rarely have time to ponder on more complex, obscure answers—it’s normally best to enter the first solution you see. When we first downloaded the game, it suffered from a fatal bug that would cause the game to become unresponsive after submitting their name for the high score list—this has since been fixed in the latest update, at least in our testing. The background music, like that found in Lexitron, is highly repetitive but less irritating; the game offers a toggle switch in its settings to play music from the iPod instead. While it’s not the deepest of word games, we really appreciate the novel concept behind the game and its use of the iPhone’s multi-touch interface. Consider it a worthwhile download for fans of word games or those curious to see a novel use of the iPhone’s capabilities—a way to select difficulty levels and added depth, possibly through varied game modes, would only add to its appeal. iLounge Rating: B.
Quordy 1.2 ($3) from Lonely Star Software is a well-designed, deceivingly simply word game based around a four-by-four grid of letters. Players are given a set amount of time—one, three, or five minutes, as well as an unlimited mode—to make as many three-letter-and-up words as possible out of the given letters. To form a word, players must drag from one letter to the next, using only adjoining letters. The current word is displayed just above the submitted word list, and selected letters turn blue—to submit the word, players must simply lift their finger.
We call Quordy deceptively simple for a reason—beyond the differing time limits, players can also choose between three word lists, one full, one minus profanity, and one with only “common” words, review a robust history area with the players’ top games by score, percentage of possible words, and word length, and compete in challenges. Challenges allow the player to compete with another player on the same puzzle, either by handing the device off between games or online with contacts. In addition, the user can choose to turn the puzzle they just finished into a challenge, making it easy to have an ongoing “top this”-style rivalry with friends and family, both local and afar. All of this functionality is accessed through an extremely attractive one-panel interface, giving users access to nearly all features without leaving the main screen. Quordy is a surprisingly deep, addictive word game that is one of the best we’ve played on the iPhone, and is worthy of our high recommendation. iLounge Rating: A.
Word Jolt 1.0 ($1) from Sudo Labs is a prime example of a port that didn’t go so well. Previously released online, Word Jolt asks players to try to piece together words from letters that are dropped onto the main part of the screen at random. The longer the word, the higher the score and the faster the meter to the left fills up—when filled, the player moves on to the next level. A timer sits below, keeping track of time between successful submissions. An entire line of letters drops should the player fail to submit a word before the timer fills up. While normal letters are blue, green bonus letters also appear from time to time, providing a score multiplier, while pink “Zap” letters also appear at random, and once used in a word, give the player access to a “Zap” button, wiping out the bottom line of letters. Note the “Zap” button and timer are present in Arcade mode only—a separate puzzle mode drops a new line of letters each time the player submits a word, putting a premium on filling up the level meter as quickly as possible.
While these rules are a little on the complex side, they would be completely acceptable if the rest of Word Jolt was well-handled. That’s not the case. A jovial, non-traditional font is used for all the buttons in the game, which makes them hard to see, and the game’s touch responsiveness is sub-par, sometimes requiring multiple taps to get the desired effect. Indeed, the very placement of the area in which the player forms the words is poorly chosen, appearing in an ill-advised spot at the bottom of the screen, leaving it completely obscured when trying to add another letter. The sound effects are loud and not particularly pleasant, and only add to the atmosphere of mediocrity. Word Jolt has the potential to be an enjoyable game, but it needs a graphic overhaul, improved responsiveness, and better audio to be worthy of recommendation. iLounge Rating: C.
Dating back to grade school, word searches were always some of our favorite word games. Word Search 1.0 ($2) from Frybread Software is that classic game interpreted for the iPhone. To start the game, players must browse through over 75 word lists, each with a unique theme like “European Mountains” or “Automobile Companies,” and select either a 10x10, 14x14, or 18x18 grid. The game generates the puzzle on the fly, placing the main letter board at the bottom and the words in two lists above.
Users simply tap and drag to highlight words, which can be formed straight or backwards and vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. When highlighting a word, it appears in large letters above the word list, and a green outline surrounds successfully submitted words. While its possible that some word search aficionados will find the puzzles slightly easy, we were generally impressed at the diversity of the lists and layouts of the puzzles. Graphically, Word Search is somewhat bland, and the game board can get a bit difficult to see in the late goings of a round, when most of the words have already been found and highlighted. However, based on the sheer amount of replay value and diversity in the puzzles offered for $2, we feel Word Search is worth of our recommendation—some added graphic polish and the ability to download new puzzles would make it more compelling. iLounge Rating: B+.
Based on the TiVo game Wordsmith, Word Nerd (Formerly Word Up!) 2.0 ($2) from Marc Abramowitz is a simple word game, in which players must form three-letter or longer words using the letters appearing at the top of 12 columns spread across the bottom portion of the screen. Each letter is given a point value, and the letters below the one being used slide up as it is added to the current word. The game ends when there are no words left.
Unfortunately, we ran into serious problems when testing the game. Our initial install of Word Up! was stuck on a single game screen with few possible words, and crashed whenever we attempted to start a new game—reloading the app simply brought us back into the same game. This continued following an upgrade to the app, and eventually led us to delete and reinstall, after which it began to work. In addition, the game never fills the entire screen, leaving a thin white strip at the top in both the game and menus. Apart from these problems, the game is rather bland visually, with a smooth animation following the submission of a word its only real glitz. Given that it is priced at the same level as its more attractive but virtually identical competitor Wordtouch, we found no reason to prefer Word Nerd, at least not until its bugs have been worked out. iLounge Rating: C-.
Word Warp 1.6.5 ($1) from MobilityWare is a competent Text Twist clone. As in other Test Twist-style games, players try to form as many words as possible from the six provided letters, with the requirement of forming at least one six-letter word to move on to the next level. Words must be a minimum of three letters in length, and a timer keeps the game moving along. Word Warp’s default is two minutes, but a slider allows users to adjust the level’s timer between one minute and unlimited play time. A harder, alternative word list is also an option, as is the ability to turn the sound effects off.
The game’s graphics, from its in-game presentation to its icon on the Home screen, seem to be Matrix inspired, with white text presented on a black and green background, and green-bordered letters and buttons for “warp”—shuffling the letters—displaying the last word submitted, submission, and moving to the next level or ending the game. A “countdown” sound effect, however, comes not from the Wachowski brothers’ franchise, but instead appears to have been borrowed from the Fox series 24. While the game would benefit from added modes, such as multiplayer, and perhaps an online scoreboard, Word Warp is a perfectly acceptable Text Twist game, and for the price, is worthy of our general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B.
While we often give higher ratings to free versions of apps based on their greater overall value, we rarely find that a free version is noticeably superior to the paid alternative. Yet that’s the case with Word Whirl 2.0 ($2) and WordWhirlFree 1.0 (Free) from HappyAppy. Both of these Text Twist clones gives the player two minutes to form as many words as possible from the six letters available, awarding more time for words that are four letters or longer. Unfortunately, both versions of the game suffer from the same limited vocabulary, missing simple words like “odor” as well as more obscure words such as “tine.”
Unbelievably, the free version offers some intelligent options missing from the paid version, such as the ability to toggle the repetitive background music and sound effects on and off, and the ability to reveal the board after the game is over. Worse yet, the free version attempts to upsell the player to the paid version, touting different game lengths and a “Turbo” mode that simply aren’t there. WordWhirlFree isn’t the worst Text Twist-style game we’ve seen, but it’s certainly not the best, and the paid version doesn’t even live up to the standard set by its free counterpart. If you’re still curious, download the free version and decide for yourself, but steer clear of the full version—it’s simply not worth the money. iLounge Rating (WordWhirlFree): B-. iLounge Rating (Word Whirl): D.
Based on the popular game for the Nintendo Wii and DS, WordJong 1.1 ($5) from Gameblend Studios mixes a typical word game with the Chinese tile game Mahjong. Players use letter tiles to form words and solve Mahjong solitaire puzzles, earning gold coins and bomb power-ups—which can be used to clear a tile from the board—for longer words. Interestingly, instead of simply generating a new puzzle each time the player wishes to play a new game, WordJong uses a calendar-based system, with a new puzzle available each day. In addition, one of seven Zodiac characters posts their high score for each puzzle, ranging in difficulty from easy (the rabbit) to hard (the dragon), giving the user a score to beat. The game also offers high score tracking, in-game awards based on performance—such as not using a bomb for the entire game—and a dictionary with more than 100,000 words.
The graphics in WordJong are quite nice, with tiles clearly legible on top of serene, Asian-inspired backgrounds. The music is repetitive, but never annoyingly so, and can be turned down or off, along with the sound effects. Given the variety of solutions, and the added challenge of competing against both the Zodiac characters and online scores, each individual puzzle in WordJong provides a lot of replay value. While most puzzles can be solved fairly easily, beating the characters’ scores can be quite challenging, requiring carefully thought out movements to succeed. WordJong is one of the pricier iPhone word games we’ve seen, but it’s also one of the best, providing an excellent mix of replay value, aesthetics, and challenge. Fans of word games will no doubt find the game worthwhile, and even those that aren’t interested in the genre might be surprised by their enjoyment of the game. iLounge Rating: A-.
Wordle 2.0 ($1) from Vadim Spivak is an attractively-designed Text Twist-style game that’s missing one key feature—sound. Like other games of its type, the goal in Wordle is to use the six given letters to form as many words, three letters in length or more, as possible within the three-minute time limit, with a requirement of at least one six-letter word in order to advance to the next round. Longer, more complex words bring higher scores, and the game ends when the player fails to complete a six letter word within a given round.
Apart from its silence, Wordle also suffers from a rather limited word list—despite the developer’s claim of “tens of thousands words,” it would sometimes miss simple words, such as “true”—but it does let the player suggest a word after the round has ended, promising to review and add it to the next word list update. The game’s interface is clean, with a sky and grass background, a simple off white word list, easy-to read letters that can be tapped or slid into place, and clearly labeled clear, shuffle, and submit buttons at the bottom. Interestingly, the app can also connect to Facebook, letting you share and compare your scores to those of your friends, and also offers an online leaderboard. Overall, Wordle is a solid Text Twist clone. Dictionary limitations aside, we found the bright, clean interface the most enjoyable out of its peers, and the game similarly the most fun to play. With a price of only $1, it’s worthy of our strong general recommendation—sound effects and an expanded dictionary would improve it further. iLounge Rating: B+.
Wordtouch 1.0.2 ($2) from Spindrift Software like Word Nerd, is a clone of the TiVo game Wordsmith. The goal is the same, as well—players must form three-letter or longer words using the letters appearing at the top of 12 columns spread across the bottom portion of the screen. Each letter is given a point value, and the letters below the one being used slide up as it is added to the current word. A game ends when there are no words left.
Strangely, we experienced similar problems to those we had with Word Nerd in Wordtouch. Upon initial installation, the green submit button refused to light up, leaving the game unplayable. After a brief visit to the developers’ website, we discovered that the problem apparently lies with a bug where games are not fully installed when first downloaded. Sure enough, after deleting Wordtouch from our test device and re-downloading it, the game worked perfectly. Fortunately, it doesn’t suffer from the same graphics problems as Word Nerd, properly filling the screen with letters and other elements that look better than those found on its main competitor. We had no problems at all with the dictionary, leaving only an enjoyable and challenging, if sparse, game. Added game modes and an online high score board could improve Wordtouch, which we find worthy of our general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B.
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