Review: Wordament (Xbox Live)


It might have been around for the last year, gathering fans and turning them into addicts, but now that Wordament has hit the Xbox Live branding, it's going to be discovered by a much larger audience - and mobile word play gaming will never be quite the same. Has the underground indie hit made a successful transition? Yes it has.

Author: Microsoft Game Studios

Version Reviewed:

Buy Link | Download / Information Link

For those of you new to Wordament, you are presented with a 4x4 grid of mostly individual letters, occasionally you'll get a combination such as 'Qu' or 'Er'. By tracing from letter to letter, you create words of three letters or more. You can move one square at a time horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and you can cross your path, but you cannot use a letter twice.

Letters aren't replaced, you have the same grid for the whole two minute game. As fast as you can slide your finger you can make words on the grid. That means if you can spot a triangle of E, T, and A, the accomplished Wordament player can get "Ate, Tea, Eta, and Tae" from that in just under two seconds. Over time, you go from searching for words to finding these patterns and banging out all the anagrams in quick succession. And when you spot an 's' or a pattern of 'ing' or 'ed' then any word gets the suffixes added in quick order.

 Wordament Wordament

Normally that would be a nice word game, where you score as many points as you can over a two minute period, pick up bonus points for finding a set of words (for example eight words connected to "birds" or "nine common words which include 'er'"), and try to beat your high score.  Wordament takes an inventive and basic game, then adds some secret sauce to the recipe that has made it so popular.

The clue is in the name. Wordament is a portmanteau of 'Word Tournament'. When you start your two minute game with the sixteen squares... everyone in the world who is playing Wordament will have exactly the same grid and the same two minute time-frame to find more words, and score more points, than you.

Once the two minutes are up, you get your score, and then you see the global score table for the grid you have just played. It's a wonderful feeling to know that all these people (I've seen up to 1500 players after some games) have been on the same grid... and then you see where you rank next to them. The focus here is on the percentage, as that's something you can take from game to game as a comparative "score". Right now I've managed one 96% round finishing in 30th place.

It's this simple addition to the game, taking it from a simple word search to something that challenges the player to be measured against everyone else in the world. It's a simple concept, but it's been implemented almost flawlessly, with just the right balance of personal challenge and global envy to keep you coming back for more.

Okay, so the flaws... two of them, and they are more because of the nature of Wordament than anything else. If you don't have an internet connection, then you're not playing, it's as simple as that. Perhaps it would be nice to have a practice mode you can play when out of coverage, but that might a bit tricky to implement (the game grids are created on a central server, as are the word lists), and could easily distract from the tournament nature of Wordament.

The other is the timing issue. Between each two minute game is a 45 second gap (to view all the words that are available on a grid, the ones you found, and the leader board), so when you start a game from the holding panorama pivot screen, there's a slightly better than 1 in 3 chance you'll jump into the middle of a Wordament game. Having just 36 seconds to play might not feel like a great deal - but you should consider it a warm-up, as your rolling stats from these incomplete games will not be affected. Only the full 2 minutes can help you improve!

Yes, these are flaws, but the developers have mitigated their impact on the overall experience.

 Wordament Wordament  

All of that was true last month, so what's changed for Xbox Live, beyond the ability to reach out to many more players and with far more visibility of the application?

Apart from a UI sprucing up, there's one major addition and one loss. If you're an existing Wordament player upgrading to the Xbox Live version, your username and statistics will no longer be present. After many attempts, it proved impossible to port the Wordament names over to the Xbox Live gamertag system that is present in every Xbox Live title. As a nod to the old-timers, a "best of the year" score table can be found at the Wordament site, but everyone starts from zero again.

Which is fair, given all the new players likely to jump into the game.

It also means that the addition of gamer points, and the achievements needed, can be racked up again. If existing players had been grandfathered in, the chances are they would have an automatic 200g on their Xbox Live profile - at least they have to spend some time getting the achievements - and we can all strive for the "finish in first place on one leader board" in our life (and that's an interesting one - there can only be one of these awarded every 2 minutes and 45 seconds, so it's going to be a tough one to achieve).

The key thing here is that these changes haven't changed the core game, and Wordament is still a delightfully balanced piece of addictive game play. It's free, it's more than recommended, but I'd just warn you that you might spend far too much time trying to find 'stenographically' in the grid.

Reviewed by at