Spelling is the new shooting - at least it is on the iPhone - and that makes vocabulary the new ammo, Websters the new GameFAQs, and remembering that whole "I before E" business the new headshot.
And it's a good fit, really: word games don't require fancy graphics or huge budgets, they fit nicely into a commute, and Mac users tend to view themselves as being cerebral, deep-thinking sorts in the first place. (Clearly not deep-thinking enough to examine exactly where a large cut of their monthly iPhone tariff goes, however. Here's a clue: Steve Jobs now has so much money, he's paid the cast of Seinfeld to turn up at his house every Tuesday evening and act out old episodes while standing inside a gigantic fake television set.)
Whatever the reason, it's good to see word games on the rise, because they're brilliant: accessible, frequently devious, and perfectly positioned to leave you with an - often illusory - sense of having done something virtuous. So it's time to dig up Dr Roget and put the kettle on, as we take a look at a few of the current crop.
- Publisher: Gameblend
- Price: GBP 0.59
- Download size: 8.4MB
WordJong takes Scrabble and blends it with Mah-jong, presenting you with an entire year's supply of stacked-tile puzzles, in which the immediate thrill of piecing together the longest possible word is tempered by the need to have usable letters left at the end so you can clear the entire board.
It could have been brilliant, each challenge having a best-case solution and nail-biting finish, as you tactically hoard your vowels for the last few moves, but there are problems. Firstly, this is a case where the simplest online leaderboard functionality would have doubled the pleasure, as the puzzle-a-day structure seems tailor-made for comparing your efforts against other players around the world, and gloating when you come out on top. More seriously, WordJong has a tendency to crash, and sometimes fails to save a score upon completion of a round, which can be extremely annoying, and it won't be long before you butt heads with the game's totalitarian, and yet curiously limited, dictionary. In just one hour-long game, I encountered about five or six words which WordJong didn't know - and we're not talking particularly obscure words either, the most exotic being "Yiddish" - which sort of takes the shine off a game based on pixel-perfect deployment of your own vocabulary.
Until this gets an update, then - hopefully including a way to laugh at your friends' pathetic scores without having to phone them up and compare notes, which can leave you feeling a little pathetic in return - WordJong remains a template for an excellent game rather than an excellent game in its own right.
- Publisher: ngmoco
- Price: GBP 1.19
- Download size: 16.8MB
If you're a fan of Boggle, but always wished it had slightly questionable Jackie Chan-style sound effects layered over the top, your dreams have been answered. ngmoco's jaunty spell-'em-up is about as basic as word games get: shake the iPhone to scatter a handful of lettered dice, spend a few grace seconds flicking any repeat letters into oblivion, and then spell as many words with what you've got until the clock counts down.
Every now and then you'll get a special tile flung onto the screen, allowing you to scramble a single letter, freeze the clock, or boost your score on the next word, but the quirk that really defines the game is the fact that you can use each letter repeatedly within a single word. I've got no idea if Boggle affords the same leniency - I've played by house rules for so long there are now additional play mechanics in my own personal version that control at which point losers have to go and make everyone a cup of tea - but it's a startling piece of generosity in the often prim world of word jumbles, and a welcome inclusion, as it means you can string together some real point-scoring monsters when you're on a roll.
As with WordJong, another welcome inclusion would have been online leaderboards, which ngmoco has apparently hinted at for a future update. As is, WordFu is simple and accommodating, and, if you give it enough time, weaves a quietly powerful spell.
Will you support Eurogamer?
We want to make Eurogamer better, and that means better for our readers - not for algorithms. You can help! Become a supporter of Eurogamer and you can view the site completely ad-free, as well as gaining exclusive access to articles, podcasts and conversations that will bring you closer to the team, the stories, and the games we all love. Subscriptions start at £3.99 / $4.99 per month.