Quarrel: XBLA review

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This game sees pirates fighting ninjas, and cavemen fighting robots. Oh, still here? Most people rushed off to buy the game before the end of the first sentence. Well for the rest of you, here’s a review of the actual game – a turn-based strategy word ’em up. Where innocent people are killed.

In effect, it’s an electronic board game for 2-4 players. Each themed ‘board’ is split up into several parts, with each player allocated an equal number of sections at the beginning of the match. Each section houses a number of little people (or robots. Or Scotsmen), and each of these little people represents a space for a letter (up to a maximum of eight). If you ‘quarrel’ with another player whilst using a piece of land containing four little people, you can make a word up to a maximum of four letters. With us so far?

Two players at a time ‘quarrel’, both using the same eight letters. Each set of letters is always an anagram. Each letter carries a number, as in Scrabble; the highest scoring word, which isn’t necessarily the longest, wins. If both players produce a word of equal value, victory is awarded to whoever submitted their word first. The little chaps on the winning team throw letters at the losing team until they burn and die; and the losers have always led pure, innocent, blameless lives. We know this because, without fail, we see their souls ascending to heaven.

Let’s back up a bit. While it’s clear you can still win if you pit three mini murderers against five, facing an opponent with seven when you have just two doesn’t bode well for victory. This is where tic tacs come in. No, sorry, tactics. During your turn, you can select one of your pieces of land to attack an opponent’s section and initiate a quarrel; or you can bolster your defences by transferring little people from one of your adjoining sections to the other. Two pieces of land with four little people may well be a better choice than one with seven and the other with just one.

Scotsmen vs robots vs cavemen! Sadly, you don't get to pick your characters (we'd all go for ninjas, right?).

If you fight an opponent using a larger team than yours and win, you take ‘prisoners’ equal to the number of extra letter spaces your foe had. More generally speaking, lose while attacking and you lose all but one of your current team; lose while defending, you lose everybody on that section and the land itself. ‘Reinforcements’ are scattered for you at the end of your turn (which lasts until you end it or until you’ve done all you can do), and you can call in one extra wordperson at the start of one quarrel if you’ve accrued enough points (though you can hoard them). Finally, bonus points are awarded for taking the same little team through multiple enemy territories (and winning).

Whew. Got all that?

So: it’s a word game that makes you think in more ways than one and, for a little extra pressure, you’re working against the clock while composing a word when playing online. It’s much simpler and easier to learn than we’ve probably made it appear – and it’s also very, very addictive. Offline game modes aren’t huge but, countering that, AI opponents get agonisingly clever very quickly. Even when you’ve finally conquered the smarmy avatars of your computerised nemeses, there’s always the option of a Quick Match to just jump in and play to scratch that violent word game itch.

Of course, the real pleasure to be had in any word game comes from human opponents; and this is where Quarrel features its most baffling, daftest omissions. There is, for example, no offline multiplayer. Go back and read that as many times as you like, we’re afraid the ‘no’ really is supposed to be there. Okay, so splitscreen Quarrel would be open to cheating but come on; not even some kind of mode incorporating taking turns?

There currently aren’t many people playing online, and virtually all those who are only seem to want to play two player matches; neither of which is the game’s fault. However, why oh why is it only unranked matches (which make it easy to find members of a Party) that offer a lobby list? There isn’t even a rematch option for ranked matches (either that, or every opponent we played was so terrified of our brainpower that they quit the second the match ended). Brownie points are won, however, for anticipating the infamous Rage Quit. When this happened to us in a ranked match, we were automatically handed the victory; during an unranked match, an AI opponent jumped in.

The anagram here is clearly, er, foseflus.

As for the words themselves, well… almost anything goes. Swearing is forbidden (one we tried was rejected as “undesirable!”), though plurals and slang (and letters of the Greek alphabet, and even a type of Armenian folk music – yes, really) are acceptable. The slang seems to be American-centric however, with “ho” and “crappers” being two delightful examples we came across. The potato/potato situation is unclear as, though we never saw any British English used, we saw American English wielded successfully a few times. Also Denki, please note; it’s commendable that you don’t allow hyphenated or apostrophised words but bearing that in mind, costar is not a word!!! That cost us a game. Bitter, us?

The 400MP price is surprisingly low, until you discover that the game started out on iTunes last year – where there’s a free version, and even the ‘Deluxe’ release is only £1.99. Nonetheless, this still represents great value for money, as it does have multiplayer options – unlike the iTunes release. If you can encourage a few online friends to buy it, it becomes an essential purchase. Either way, this is a great way to spend those Microsoft Points burning a hole in your avatar’s pocket.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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