- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, Vita, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: @DigeratiDM
- Developer: @thebaconbandits
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.letterquestgame.com/
- Game code provided by the publisher
“The pen is mightier than the sword”, as a wise man once said just before losing his first and last sword fight. The meaning behind this of course is that words have power, a power that is taken literally here. The basic concept is nice and simple: turn-based battles where you deal damage by creating words from the selection of letters on offer. The better the word, the greater the damage. This idea, however, is just the root that the rest of the game grows from; with mixed results.
There are two modes on offer here: the surely self-explanatory ‘Endless’, and a story mode. The story concerns a grim reaper on his way to buy pizza, who finds various monsters blocking his path along the way. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the entire plot – and we applaud it. The monsters include ghosts, wolves, and giant bunnies but that, ultimately, doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that their attacks will occasionally do more than chip away at your health bar, and how you deal with this is important to your chances of success.
Sometimes, an enemy hit will inflict some sort of status on a selection of your letter tiles, which then lasts for the next few turns. Cracked tiles can be used, but won’t count toward the damage/score of the word; stone tiles can’t be used at all; flipped tiles are, er, upside down (this seems rather pointless, but it’s better than any other effect). Whirlwind tiles change the letters upon them each turn, while Plague tiles are similar to cracked ones but spread the ‘plague’ across your board each turn if not used. Poisoned or spiked tiles can be used, but each one damages you for a set amount of points. Most interesting are duplicator tiles, which tend to be the ones you’ll want to use up as quickly as possible. For each turn a duplicator tile isn’t used, it will copy itself onto an adjacent tile, which can cause a real headache if you’re not careful. And, finally, your opponent might change a bunch of your existing letters into difficult-to-use ones (hint: Letter Quest accepts ‘zzz’ as a word).
Mixing things up in this way is a great idea, adding another layer to the familiar-yet-addictive task of making words from a randomly-generated selection of letters. Less great is the way in which Letter Quest most plainly makes its mobile origins clear, which is the way it so heavily leans on its upgrade system. No matter how much of a smart alec you are when it comes to the English language it is, so far as we can see, literally impossible to make it all the way through the story mode without spending thousands of gems. Your health, damage, and defence can all be upgraded. There are passive abilities to be bought and upgraded in the form of books, and there are also single-use items to heal or strengthen you. The further you progress through the story’s thirty stages, the more vital your in-game shopping becomes. You could argue that this is not unreasonable in a videogame, but there are other issues at play, too.
Mini-bosses will, without exception, have much more health than you – sometimes, literally close to ten times as much. This is offset by the fact that they tend to take massive damage from words that meet special conditions. When such a condition is something like a word of at least five or six letters, fine, bring it on! A few however require words that contain certain letters or letter combinations in order to deal damage of any significance. Letter generation remains random in these fights, meaning that loss or victory often relies on luck much more than it should. You can sacrifice a turn to swap all of your letters, but even if you do the only guarantee you have is that during that turn you’ll take damage while dealing none.
The game’s dictionary isn’t quite perfect, either. We found some of the definitions to be eyebrow-raising, in that the wording seemed iffy or an alternate definition was missing entirely. That doesn’t impact on gameplay, though. What does is the fact that, during our time with the game, we came across several words that the game failed to recognise. Swears aren’t allowed, but Letter Quest isn’t alone there. We found other, more innocent examples that the game was blind to as well however, including ‘Norse’, ‘Mormon’, and ‘trialled’. Playing the mobile version for comparison (we can’t confirm if this is still true for consoles), the game refused to admit to the existence of Scotland – even though it’s happy to accept the names of other countries.
In fact this is virtually identical to the mobile version of the game, which can be downloaded for free. We’re not automatically dismissive of mobile-to-console word games; we still have fond memories of Quarrel, for example. It’s a real shame that improvements didn’t go much further than a new soundtrack, though. There are still the ten ‘hard’ stages, and every stage can still be replayed under different conditions for a new challenge. This Remastered release was the perfect opportunity to throw in multiplayer as well but, sadly, this is not an opportunity that has been taken.
It’s the sort of game that keeps pulling you back in, and people who enjoy things like Scrabble or Boggle (i.e. most people – surely?) won’t have any trouble getting a dozen hours or maybe much more of enjoyment out of this. It’s held back from greatness, though, by a failure to address the additions and improvements that the original needs.