Monday, February 19, 2007

Bookworm Adventures Review

Bookworm Adventures, developed and published by PopCap Games.
The Good: Numerous RPG-like weapons and bonuses, multiple modes of play, no time limit lets you think, increasing difficulty with no major penalty for dying, good sense of humor, good graphics and sound for the genre
The Not So Good: Each level lasts about one round too long
What say you? An expanded version of the classic word game offers more extras and surprisingly entertaining gameplay: 7/8

One of the more popular board games is Scrabble. People can’t seem to get enough of making words out of random letters, as organized tournaments have cropped up around the world. And, with a lot of board games, you would imagine that it would make for a good computer game. The Bookworm series has been around for a while, mainly as one of those browser games, but also in a downloadable deluxe form. In Bookworm Adventures, Lex (the book worm, not the Superman villain, although maybe they are related) travels through the worlds of famous books, defeating enemies with his word handling skills. How will the RPG elements of Bookworm Adventures combine with the classic word game?

The visuals of Bookworm Adventures are pretty much what you’d expect for a word game, although they are more interesting than previous titles in the series. The game is rendered in 2-D, but the battle area, which depicts Lex and his current foe against a sometimes dynamic background, looks pretty good. The characters are animated enough and the comments they say (through bubbles) are funny most of the time. The game features all of the special graphical effects you would expect for a game such as this. None of the in-game text is voiced (except for the main menu), but the rest of the sound is good enough. I will say that Lex saying “don’t leave me” when you press on quit always makes me a little sad. The effects are fitting to the game and the background music is good as well. Bookworm Adventures is what you would expect for a higher-end word puzzle game, and its polished graphics and sound won’t disappoint.

Like all of the other Bookworm games, Bookworm Adventures involves making words from a set of letters. In this game, you are given 16 letters at a time and must make words from them, like a more robust version of Scrabble. In previous versions, you had to connect letters on a large grid, but the smaller grid and more flexible mechanics fit the game much better. The primary mode of the game involves battling literary foes from three major books. The better your words are, the more damage you cause. You are not limited in the amount of time you have (unless you pick the Arena mode, which is unlocked later in the game), just the amount of words you need to defeat the enemies, as they cause Lex damage each turn as well. During your adventure, you are given an opportunity to play some mini-games to earn extra prizes. These are also unlocked and available from the main menu eventually. The mini-games are a nice departure from the main quest, and include making as many words out of a set of letters, or guessing a five-letter word like the game show Lingo (it always looks easier on TV). Obviously the mini-games don’t stand on their own, but they are a nice addition to the game.

In order to flesh out the game and make it more interesting, Bookworm Adventures introduces a number of RPG-like elements to the game. When you defeat a boss (at the end of each chapter), you will receive an object that will grant some sort of bonus, like increased protection or better attacks for using certain letters. You can only carry three items at a time, you so have to pick which three will give you the best chance of winning. Later in the game, it’s a hard decision to make once you have collected an impressive set of prizes. You will also gain experience points, which will increase your health, attack, or defense. These are really given at fixed intervals, so it’s not as flexible as you might think. Each enemy you encounter usually has some special attacks other than just eliminating your health, such as locking tiles from use or poisoning Lex (to cause constant damage). There can be a bit of strategy involved in combating your current enemy’s strengths, such as saving certain words for the next enemy, but really if you spell long words you’ll do just fine. Spelling longer words will also grant some gem tiles, which will give some sort of secondary attack to your enemy (freezing, fire, poison) if you use them in a word. If you are stuck with a bunch of useless letters, you can scramble and receive a new set, but this costs a turn and gives your enemy a free shot at you. Potions are also available to Lex, which will restore health or cure any lasting attacks.

While Bookworm Adventures won’t likely convert new people to word puzzles, it is one of the best (and possibly the best) game in its genre. The extras in the game make Bookworm Adventures feel more complete in addition to adding some interest to the gameplay. I feel much more compelled to play this game than other word games I have encountered. The RPG elements don’t feel tacked on as a cheap selling point: rather, they are an integral part of the game. Most importantly, the game is fun to play if you are interested in word games. Each chapter seems to last about one round too long, however, but this is a minor problem among a large number of successes in the title. The game is initially easy, but it becomes more difficult as you move along, requiring the use of longer words to stay alive. The penalty for dying is not too severe, as you are able to start over at the same chapter. You lose all of your potions, but you can complete any mini-games in the book again, so you can easily earn them back. I can’t imagine any word game surpassing Bookworm Adventures and still stay true to the genre. The combination of effective gameplay, a number of extras, and a decent story makes Bookworm Adventures a perfect game for the wordsmiths of the world.