Despite all the hype for next-generation action games like Halo 3, BioShock and Call of Duty 4, it's the handheld puzzle games that seem to be coming out on top this year. 2007 has been a surprisingly good year for portable puzzlers, featuring solid titles like Practical Quotient 2, Crush, New York Times Crossword Puzzles, and my personal favorite game of the year, Puzzle Quest. You can add WordJong, Destineer's oddly addictive new puzzle game, to that list of great puzzle games.
WordJong is about as straight forward as a game comes, it's a simple idea that is spread across a number of interesting modes. Basically this is the lovechild of Scrabble and Mahjong, a combination that may not sound all that intriguing at first. The way it works is you will have to spell out words from a pile of letters scattered around the table. The longer the word the more points its worth, with the ultimate goal being you clearing the pile and earning a high score. It's a unique concept that is surprisingly simple and may even make you use words you normally wouldn't think about using.
Although it's always best to go into this type of game with a working knowledge of Mahjong, it's not essential when it comes to WordJong. All you have to know is that you can only use certain tiles and that you are trying to clear every single piece off of the board. As you spell out longer words you will unlock a number of items that will make your life a lot easier. For example, one of the items is a bomb which you can use to destroy unwanted letters. You will also have a wildcard that you can use at any time. And while not exactly bonus item, there are letters to look for that are worth more than others, that's the best way to rack up high scores.
The game is split up into a few different single- and multiplayer modes, each tackling the spelling challenge in a slightly different way. The most intriguing mode is the Daily Puzzle, which offers you one brand new puzzle for every day of the calendar. Like Brain Age and other edutainment games on the Nintendo DS, WordJong wants you to spend a few minutes of each day trying to clear a board and earn a high score. Best of all, this mode keeps track of your high scores and which days you've completed.
If you liked playing your daily puzzle and you still want more, then maybe you should check out some of the other single-player modes found in WordJong. One of these modes is the Temple Challenge, a campaign mode of sorts that is all about you earning high scores and becoming the ultimate WordJong player. This mode is actually a lot like the Daily Puzzle mode, only this time around you are earning experience points that will help you increase your rank level. Basically this mode is just an excuse to get you to play a bunch of puzzles in a row, which can be a real fun way to waste some time.
Perhaps the most exciting single-player mode is the battle mode, a competitive game of WordJong played against a computer opponent. This versus mode takes the best elements of the other modes (spelling large words for points) and mixes it with a fast-paced two-person game. In this Battle Mode you fight an opponent in a turn-based game where each person is trying to earn the most points before the tiles are all used up. Because of the speedy pace, this versus mode is actually the most entertaining thing about the game ... even if it is only me fighting a computer character. The good news is that you will be going up against a number of crazy animal characters as you earn gold coins and advance through the ranks.
As much fun as the computer opponents are, the game only gets better when you play it with a friend. For the most part the multiplayer mode works exactly like an extension of the Battle Mode, the two players take turns spelling words and earning points. The difference is in the delivery, since you can play both online and off. The offline game is fun, and if you can find somebody with a similar vocabulary it can be downright exciting. WordJong also offers you the ability to jump online and play games with other people. At least, that's the theory. While I'm sure this mode is a lot of fun, after several days of trying I could never find anybody to go play against. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before people start popping up online, but as of this writing it's barren online.
The graphics and gameplay are understandably simple. For the most part this is a game where all you are looking at and clicking on is differently labeled tiles. Thankfully the developers have opted to add pleasant nature themed backgrounds, so the game isn't nearly as boring looking as it probably sounds. That's not to say that the game isn't boring looking, because it is. But it gets the job done, and that's all you can really ask for with this type of game.
Like the graphics, the controls also get the job done. There's not a whole lot to the gameplay, but that's probably for the best. At most all you will be doing is using your stylus to click on the various letters and spell out words. Occasionally you'll have to push the back button or clear the board, but all that is accomplished with the touch screen. The gameplay is nothing revolutionary, but it's definitely easy to use.
If you can get behind the concept then this will be one of those Nintendo DS games you keep with you at all times, however those who aren't into spelling or Scrabble-like games will likely not be swayed by WordJong. Even if you're on the fence, the $20 price tag may make experimenting with this casual game a little easier to swallow. Either way, I had a lot of fun with WordJong and can see myself popping it into my DS to keep up with the daily puzzles.
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