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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: WordJong

Destineer's WordJong is not a revolutionary game, and it won't be on any Game of the Year lists. Due to its origin as a PC downloadable and its simple concept, the game is destined to end up as a relatively low-profile release. And, while Destineer may not agree with this, that's probably fine. Not every game needs to be a big deal and the subject of endless discussion in magazines and on websites. WordJong deserves to be as mellow in marketing as it is in play. But WordJong does at least deserve not to be buried under all of the more hyped releases in November. WordJong is the very definition of a solid game: it is easy to understand, easy to play, well-designed, and leaves the player with a pleasant feeling. It also provides a unique option for online DS gaming. In its simplicity, WordJong is the embodiment of the addictive puzzle game.

WordJong's gameplay is completely transparent; you know how to play within seconds of turning the game on. No matter which game mode you choose, you're presented with a stack of letter tiles, which you arrange to form words. Using the tiles allows access to the tiles under it. It's simple in the good way-- you can jump right into it.

Like Brain Age, WordJong features a mode designed for daily play. However, WordJong's Daily Puzzle mode seems patterned more after newspaper crosswords than Brain Age's Daily Training. Every day, the game provides a new puzzle, with a suggested high score. As the week progresses, the shape of the stack of tiles changes and the high score gets higher. It is difficult to tell what makes a harder puzzle in WordJong (it's not obvious from looking at a pile of letters), but it is my impression that the puzzles get more difficult as the high scores increase. Unlike Brain Age, you can easily play previous days' puzzles that you missed; the puzzle selection menu is a calendar.

While waiting for the next day's puzzle, you can take on the "Temple Challenge," in which completing puzzles awards you experience points toward a progression of ranks. This mode is similar to the daily puzzle mode, except it features sequential levels instead of a single challenge every day. Completing puzzles in this mode earns you a fortune cookie, which provides an appropriately cryptic message and a point bonus. The first time I was asked to open a fortune cookie, I laughed out loud. It never got old. I believe I would pay for a game that just allowed me to read fortune cookies, one after another. Your mileage may vary, but it's at least cute.

The multiplayer mode, playable against AI, or online and through local wireless, is especially enjoyable and clever. Two players share a single board, taking turns to spell words from the provided tiles. Each player, of course, hopes that their opponent will not notice the word they're planning to build, or take a required letter from their planned word. This feels most similar to Scrabble, in which players often plan to place letters in a certain location, only to have that spot taken up by an opponent's word. However, the other player's actions in WordJong have more of an effect on plans, since, without a store of tiles, your opponent's moves alter the available letters rather than the starting point.

WordJong isn't a particularly ambitious game. Its gameplay is fully realized; it is what it needs to be-- no tacked-on storylines or yelling-based minigames required. It is a game about spelling words from a selection of letters. It works as an engaging solitaire pastime, and it works as a multiplayer competition. It is just an enjoyable way to pass time, with little stress but plenty of challenge. I appreciate the low-key approach.

If there's one complaint I can make about this game, it's the name. I haven't had occasion to talk in person with many people about it, but I think "WordJong" is a fairly awkward word. Luckily, most of my interactions with people regarding this game have been, and will be, on the Internet, so I don't think it's necessary to dock the game.

Final Verdict: 8/10

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