It may sound like an annex of Hogwarts, but Spelltower offers its own breed of magic. This is a game where you won't touch the screen for minutes at a time, staring fruitlessly at a jumbled layout of letters that seem to contain nothing at all. And then suddenly you'll realise that going over to a T then reversing can DETOXIFY a giant segment of the board. Your finger, almost trembling, traces out the word. Half the board disappears. You are some kind of wizard.
Most games are divorced entirely from real-world skills, but word puzzles operate in a hinterland. It's not that they necessarily educate or improve the vocabulary of players, but there's some optimistic part of your brain that thinks they might. That if you spend enough time scoring big in Spelltower, a transmogrification will slowly take place and eventually you'll wake up as Stephen Fry.
The point of justifications like this, of course, is that they let you play games and feel good about it. The equivalent of a menthol cigarette. Spelltower's chic and colourful style pulls you in, and soon it's swallowing hour upon hour of your time. The basic layout is a grid made up of letters, and you can link any letter to any surrounding it in order to trace out words: backwards, diagonals, everything's up for grabs. This does not make things easy, which is Spelltower's first big jolt (84 points!)
You may think you have a gene (20 pts) for this kind of thing, but soon you're sat (9 pts) looking at a set (9 pts) and feeling like a bit of a dope (18 pts). You rue (9pts) your sad (12pts) vocabulary and get a goosy (160 pts!) prickle whenever something like botanic (252 pts!) crops up, but the rest of the time is spent discovering that Zora is not, in fact, a word, and that while you may wish to "pwn" this grid you'll often only pone (24 pts) it by guessing. I know this makes me sound dozy (136 pts), but really I'm just sad (12 pts).
This is what you're doing in all of Spelltower's five modes, which includes Tetris-inspired local multiplayer, where the pressure is really ratcheted up. In Tower Mode there are simply 150 tiles, no time limit or pressure, and the goal is to score high: this is the one where it's acceptable to just stare at the screen for a few minutes.
Puzzle Mode is more fiendish, adding an entire row of letters each time you make a word, and it's game over when the tower hits the top. This is where I tend to spend most of my Spelltower time, because the difficulty is in strategy rather than speed. Letting one column outgrow the others, for example, is a disaster that must be avoided at all costs (it only gives you one way to link the letters). Ex Puzzle Mode is the same, but with a tougher grid, and I don't like to speak about that.
But if you absolutely must have a coronary, then Rush Mode is where Spelltower gives up on the pretence it's your friend and starts applying thumbscrews to the frontal lobes. The tower is ever-rising, whether you're making words or not, and it makes me panic. I've played Rush Mode twice, and each time ended it white as a sheet, forehead soaked in sweat, hands trembling.
Look, let's put it this way. If you want a brilliant word puzzler that will fill any 15-minute block of time going, Spelltower is where it's at. If you have an elderly relative who likes word puzzles, and you're due an inheritance, give them this and say that Rush Mode is well worth a try. It's like magic, really: nobody can prove a thing.
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