Review: AlphaJax (Xbox Live)
Alphajax has taken an unconventional route to Xbox Live. Originally an independent release in the Windows Store, Microsoft noted its popularity and has brought it to their flagship brand. But it's an app with some problems, and that dulls the impact.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
Let's start with the basics. AlphaJax is another Scrabble clone where you take your turns against human opponents over the internet, and over an extended period of time. You make your move, submit it to the central server (in this case the Xbox Live servers), and wait for your opponent to move. They'll get an alert, make their move, submit it, and back it comes to you.
This process could take about an hour with two people fully engaged in a single game, or it could be spread over a week or two as you take time to make your move. Unless you have OCD and need to have a game finished as soon as possible, it's a great way to play long distance friends, and one that many multiplayer titles adopt.
It's also a Scrabble like game, so you have a 15x15 game board that has bonus tiles in slightly different places, different points values for some tiles, an altered distribution of tiles, and anything else technically needed to make it legally not Scrabble. Which fools nobody.
What is nice about AlphaJax is that the popular 'helper' applications and websites that have flourished to tell you when to play "QINTAR" for maximum score don't have the board details for AlphaJax. That means less opportunities for cheating and skull-duggery. Given much of AlphaJax is based around random opponents found online, I found this a comforting touch, albeit one that I know will not last forever.
The game mechanics of being alerted by toast message, live tile status numbers, and in-game alerts works fine, and handling the tiles in the game to place them on the board works well, and the mistakes made by Words with Friends in terms of jittery placement of tiles is not present. There's nothing in the game to get in the way.
Apart from the adverts. AlphaJax may have had a paid-for option when it was an indie title to remove the adverts, but that has been removed. Everyone on Xbox Live is downloading an ad-supported version with no way to turn it off... even if you bought it before. It'll help Microsoft's inventory bulk up, but it feels like early supporters of AlphaJax are being forgotten.
Neither can existing players carry on with their paid version - the indie servers will switch off at the end of 2012 and the only way to keep playing will be through the Xbox Live servers.
So that's a little bit of an issue, but I have another one. And I don't appear to be alone on this one. AlphaJax allows far too much random contact and unwarranted alerts in the Xbox Live system.
Case in point, when starting a new random game, you are allocated an opponent by the AlphaJax servers, and then that move is pushed to your opponent... whether they want to start a new game with you or not! That's crazy. Rather than have a digital 'holding pen' or opponent looking for match-ups, the developers have assumed everyone will start lots of games as they wish.
Yes, you can reject a new game, but you still have to go in to the game, choose the game, have it load, then reject the offer. It would be so much easier to have an option in the settings to switch this on or off, but no. You have to do this. For every game you want to reject. And boy do they build up over time.
This simple change in expected behaviour means that AlphaJax is constantly pinging me for requests from random people to play a game. It fills up the live tile, it pings me with toast notifications, it floods the stream of alerts inside the Xbox Live client app on my smartphone, it's just very... aggressive and impolite.
Lots of games get the basics of Scrabble-by-mail right. AlphaJax doesn't. Yes it can use the Xbox Live friends lists, yes you can earn gamer points, but does that outweigh the shouty nature of the alerts? No.
If everything worked as expected, AlphaJax would be another competent Scrabble clone, with the advantage of Xbox Live branding keeping the player count relatively high. But that's not a big advantage when you have a core of friends on Facebook already playing one of the other titles. So when something knocks down the game, that's enough to sour the whole experience.
Technically AlphaJax works, and that's always to be noted. But in polite society you need to not be hyperactive and shouting about yourself all the time. Or you'll be quietly ignored. Sorry AlphaJax, but that's where you are to me just now. I'll check back to see if the code is still as noisy in January, but for now... "you're just too darn loud."
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at