Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bookworm Adventures Volume 2 Review

Bookworm Adventures Volume 2, developed and published by PopCap Games.
The Good: Timed arena mode, new mini-games and treasures
The Not So Good: Lacks any dramatic or innovative improvements that alter basic gameplay strategy, woefully underdeveloped companions
What say you? Insignificant enhancements makes this word-building game only for extreme fans of the series that need a repeat performance: 4/8

Word games resides in a comfy niche within the casual gaming genre, certainly not as popular as match-tree or click management titles because they require actual thought instead of simple reflexes and very basic strategy. Probably the most famous name in this sub-genre is the Bookworm series of games, with the last iteration Bookworm Adventures coming out two years ago. Well, it's time for PopCap to cash in and for you to pony up another $20 for the sequel: Bookworm Adventures Volume 2. What changes, if any, have the developers cooked up for us?

There has been no perceivable change in graphics at all. The low-resolution, 2-D graphics from the original game are retained. The new enemies and characters you encounter have the same sporadic animations as before. Special effects are not that spectacular, and zooming in during the equivalent of a fatality only serves to highlight the low-resolution nature of the character models. The sparse nature of the graphics might allow for the game to work on a wide range of machines, but there are more imaginative alternatives for a 2-D presentation. The audio is the same level of quality as well: while none of the dialogue is voiced (still), I found the background music to be quite pleasing and the effects are helpful. At least some changes in graphics would be expected in a sequel, but nothing of note has been added to Bookworm Adventures Volume 2.

Not surprisingly, the basics of the game haven't changed at all: spell words from a set of sixteen letters in order to defeat various literary foes. The longer your words and the more exotic the letters you choose, the more effective your attacks will be. The game features thirty levels spread equally across three books; this offers about six hours of gameplay or so, nothing terrible for a casual game. You will encounter various characters ripped from famous storybooks, which is both a nice feature and the source for a lot of the game's humor. You cannot save your progress during a single level; although most encounters only last around 15 minutes or so, something you just have to leave. The different levels don't impact the actual gameplay at all, so it's a purely cosmetic feature. Additionally, there is an arena mode, which introduces a time limit; this is the most significant change to the game, and it's still a very basic addition. You can also play a single book until you die, another unimpressive new feature. During your adventures you can play two new mini-games to get additional potions for the main game for a change of pace. The game is completely mouse-driven with no keyboard support: a strange omission for a word-making game, although I suppose the use of repeated letters in a single set is the justification for this shortcoming.

The auxiliary gameplay features are all the same as last time around: scrambling to get new letters, leveling up to improve health and attacks, potions, and colored tiles. So what's new, and do they make the game worth buying? There are twenty new treasures and companions to accompany you. You can choose two treasures and one companion for each level; they do things like increase attacks or decrease enemy abilities, much like spells in a role-playing game. Having twenty new ones is nice and all, but not a noticeable change. And the companions are the same as having an additional treasure: disappointing, as I was expecting some sort of team-based element introduced into the game. Lastly, there are wild card tiles that are formed by using three different colored tiles in a word. And that's it.

This is all they could think of in two years? There is an extreme feeling of deja vu (hey, OpenOffice, where are my accent marks?!) while playing Bookworm Adventures Volume 2, mainly because I've already done this before. The enjoyable nature of the base game is still intact, but you need to offer important new features in a sequel to make it worth buying. Thirty new levels play the same as the thirty old levels. The infinite replay and timed arena modes are lukewarm additions. You probably won't even notice the twenty new treasures, and wild card tiles are rare enough to ignore for most players. Companions, which could have been really cool cooperative, tactical allies, are instead disappointingly limited potion factories. I was imagining that you could tell them powers to use each turn, much like the enemies use against you, but apparently this level of sophistication is beyond the Bookworm universe. Nothing Bookworm Adventures Volume 2 offers makes it worth getting; you are better off sticking with the original game since everything of importance was done exactly the same before.