The world of gaming has evolved. You still have your core games which take a powerful PC or console and controller to navigate complex worlds and tell epic stories of fantastic lands, but another facet of gaming has come up. Other critics and adventurous casual gamers might call it mobile gaming, but I call the genre simply: Games that occupy my free time while in the restroom. If a game on my phone or iPad can occupy my thoughts long enough to enthrall me for my duration while I’m indisposed, then it is a game worth having amongst the many icons that litter my interface to my mobile devices. JustPressStart’s latest acquisition, Tumblewords by Minicore Studios, fits that bill… if only just.
Word went out over the wire that a new game had come up for review on iOS and our esteemed host of the JPSPodcast reached out to each of us asking who wanted to tackle the challenge. Having recently been persuaded to purchase a shiny new iPad by my lovely wife, I decided to take the game for a spin. The premise intrigued me as I like games based on logic and have a penchant for things that tumble. Little did I know that the actual words in the title only halfway prepare you for what to expect from the actual game. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but I do wish that it was a slightly more approachable and a little more enjoyable.
From the start of the game, you are greeted with a nicely drawn splash page that has pleasant background music playing and skillfully placed art. Its clear Minicore Studios knows the value of presentation and they did a good job of making the game look great from even the main menu. I found myself thankful to the developer as I was able to quickly punch off the sound with a small icon in the lower left as that is often the first thing I do in any mobile game. While the music and sounds were nice, I don’t like to advertise to the world what I’m doing in my preferred palace of mobile gaming.
Upon launching the game, you’re met with a quick tutorial that runs you through the basics. You’re given a collection of letters in a pool and then you’re given a group of letters of your own to choose from, a la Hasbro’s Scrabble game. The twist is that you’re allowed to manipulate the letters almost to your own choosing. By looking at the pool of letters, you’ll see words begin to form. Your goal is to make as many words as you can by connecting adjacent letters in the amount of turns afforded to you. At any time, you can either swap out letters in the potential words with ones from your own collection or use power-ups to flip and replace the letters to your choosing. Power-ups are given to you by successfully completing words; the longer the word, the more points, the quicker the power-ups are activated. The kicker, and something I found to the detriment of the game, is that for every successful word the board changes and you’re given a new set of letters in your collection to choose from as well as new letters on the game board itself. Some of the previous letters stay, but other seemingly arbitrary letters occupy the same space thereby taking away any strategy for multiple words you may have seen earlier. There were several occasions when I’d see the potential for a couple of different words. When I took the first word in my thought process, the letters shifted and I never was able to complete the second word I had in mind because my pool of letters changed so dramatically. While this raises the difficulty of the game nicely, it also takes away from any type of flow that the user would feel for getting into the game. By changing the playing field so dramatically, I felt like I was no longer invested in completing the words because my progress was stifled from the outset.
Visually the game is very nice looking. There are several themes to choose from which change the background of the board, the look of the tiles and the fonts on the tiles themselves. The problem I ran into is the fonts chosen for most of the themes were a bit hard to read from a casual perspective which made finding words in the jumbles of letters that much more difficult. I was then forced to use a theme that I didn’t much care for aesthetically just because I was able to read the game board that much more effectively. If I hadn’t, I’d have found that other themes left me staring at the board looking for words to appear when they were right there in front of me anyway but I just couldn’t see them due to the aesthetics.
With all things being fair, the game is good for people who enjoy word games like Scrabble or Words with Friends. Unfortunately, from my standpoint, the obstacles presented took me out of the game too much for it to really be enjoyable. What I ended up taking away from the game was that it was actually quite boring. The reward for putting up with the obstacles didn’t seem to be enough to warrant putting up with them in the first place. In the mobile genre, games have become disposable in nature. A price tag of under a dollar makes it very easy to forgive some of the shortcomings I felt while playing the game, but for me the wow factor just wasn’t there to occupy my thoughts and time while seated upon my throne.