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Play on words

Product: W.E.L.D.E.R. | Developer: Highline Games | Publisher: Ayopa Games | Format: Android | Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1 | File size: 18.2MB | Version: Europe
W.E.L.D.E.R. Android, thumbnail 1
iOS isn't exactly hurting for word games. There's the asynchronous Words With Friends, the enchanting SpellTower, and the spineless Bookworm. There's Wurdle and Scrabble and Boggle and Quarrel Deluxe. More than 300 App Store results for "anagram" and 400 for "hangman".

In fact, if you're a lexicon fiend - the sort of vocabulary collector whose favourite tome is the dictionary and whose favourite follow on Twitter is Miriam Webster's Word of the Day - you won't struggle to find something to suit your taste.

So developer Ayopa Games has been pretty gutsy to enter one of the the most highly-populated areas on iTunes, with yet another game about tiles, letters, and built-in dictionaries.

Mark my words

Here's how W.E.L.D.E.R. works. You're presented with a big grid of letters and blank tiles. You can swap two adjacent tiles, and stamp letters onto the blank blocks - all with the aim of spelling out words of four characters or more. Lengthy words jack up your score, and nuisance letters net you more points than common vowels.

The twist is that you start each level with a set number of swaps, and faffing about with tiles will make your counter steadily drop. You can get a fresh set of five swaps when you hit a certain score, but you'll constantly need to calculate your moves to stay ahead of the game.

Things start getting complicated when W.E.L.D.E.R. introduces new moves. Reverse lets you take a string of tiles and spin them round to mirror the characters. Group lets you move a handful of close letters in one move. Jump gives you free rein to swap two tiles from anywhere on the board.

Just like the swaps, these special moves come in a limited supply and don't get replenished until you reach certain score thresholds. This forces you to be frugal: not wasting an oh-so helpful Jump move lest you need it to finish off a massive seven-letter monster later in the game.

Them's fighting words

It's a smart and relatively fresh set of rules, and it effectively combines the thrills of spelling words with a falling-block puzzler twist. It's as much about matching blocks as it is about matching letters, and creating combo chains is as important as flexing your lexicon.

It's also fiendishly difficult - a game designed for true word assassins. Just getting through the 12-level single-player campaign can be a mountainous challenge.

W.E.L.D.E.R.'s alphabet soup of disorganised letters can really make your head spin, as you try to distinguish patterns and half-words amongst the spaghetti jumble of nonsense and noise. Just trying to find four letter words - let alone making six-letter missives and setting up chain reactions - is tough.

Especially when you have to start thinking about letters in reverse order as well. That sort of illogical, backwards thinking doesn't come easy to everyone. For most of us, more time in W.E.L.D.E.R. will be spent spent sitting slack-jawed and bored in front of a cloudy tileset of Zs and Js than actually building impressive words.

It can also be too easy to swap tiles by accident, wasting your crucially important supply of swaps. Plus, "June" is totally a real word. I looked it up in a dictionary and everything.

Man of few words

W.E.L.D.E.R. only comes with one mode - a 12-level career that sees you slowly unlocking those special moves (Jump, Reverse, and Group) as the game goes on. That can be a serious pain, as you have to wait for the more strategic options to open.

It means every time you play you're locked out of reversing tiles and grouping letters. A free play option, without levels and with all special moves unlocked from the start, would have been nice.

There are no multiplayer modes, either. In fact, W.E.L.D.E.R. is lacking a lot of the variety and options that we expect from word games these days. It does use iOS 5's built-in dictionary to give you definitions, which is a nice touch, but it's lacking modes and it's absolutely lacking heart.

What's the magic word

W.E.L.D.E.R. is a game of harsh industrial corners, abrasive textures, and cold brass. A game of clanking metal, factory bells, and an incessant background whirr. It's not the most welcoming aesthetic, and it fails to stick out from the crowd visually.

In fact, it slinks into the shadows in just about every way. The litany of opposing word games offer more features, more modes, better rules, and generally more fun than W.E.L.D.E.R. has to offer. The game's ruleset can be rather smart, sure, and it certainly lends itself to brief bouts of addiction - but far better word games are out there.

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Reviewer photo
Mark Brown | 29 November 2011
It's certainly a challenge for Scrabble veterans, but with a lack of modes and a shortage of tension, W.E.L.D.E.R. struggles to stand out in a crowded genre of far better vocab games
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