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WordJong (DS) artwork

WordJong (DS) review

"The change actually makes for a much more interesting experience, since your mind is now put to the test a bit more. There often will be a few options available, so your job is to figure out which will do the most to help your score. For example, why settle for 'cede' if the letters for 'succeed' happen to be available?"

Sometimes all you want from a video game is some simple fun. You're not in the mood to beat down a thousand ancient Chinese warriors, you don't care to slaughter alien hordes and the notion of making it to the end zone for a spectacular touchdown lacks its usual appeal. For moments like these, there is WordJong.

At its core, WordJong is just the sort of simple title you'll find available for play on sites that host browser-based entertainment fare, only it's been ported over to your DS so that you can haul it with you and not worry about someone stealing your invaluable laptop. It turns out that the game was perfect for such an adaptation, with mouse controls relegated in favor of touch-screen simplicity. Control is precise and you'll almost never make any mistakes on that end of things. Even if you do, it's not a big deal since you can just undo your move by brushing the stylus against the appropriate icon. Talk about frustration averted!

The game's visual style and music do a great job of keeping everything zen, too. You'll be looking mostly at pictures of peaceful shrines while listening to Oriental music that sounds like it belongs on a CD compilation of soothing tunes. The whole effect is very calming, even if it's not especially interesting. That's an acceptable trade.

As for the gameplay itself, it's straight-forward. Perhaps you've played a variant of 'mahjong,' the old tile game where some domino-like pieces are scattered about in a haphazard stack and you eliminate them by making matches that reveal the new pieces lying underneath. Well, that's essentially what WordJong is, only you now have to spell words instead of making simple matches.

The change actually makes for a much more interesting experience, since your mind is now put to the test a bit more. There often will be a few options available, so your job is to figure out which will do the most to help your score. For example, why settle for 'cede' if the letters for 'succeed' happen to be available? There's additional strategy, too, because hogging all the letters in one turn might prevent you from forming a great new word when more tiles come into play. The temptation to throw an 's' at the end of everything for more points can really work against you if you're not planning ahead.

Slight complications also keep things fresh. As in Scrabble, certain letters are worth more points than others, and there are pieces that will double your score for any word you complete that contains them. That's just one more thing to keep in mind as you plan your moves. A final consideration is that you only win a round if you manage to clear all of the tiles. Having a bunch of pieces left and no words to spell with them means your last 3 or 4 minutes were wasted time.

Perhaps the only real issue the game has is occasional limitations on word choice. Our copy came with a dictionary that was called the game's “strategy guide.” It was a clever joke, but the problem is that even some of the words in the pocket volume we received aren't included in-game. If you want to spell out 'slut' or 'classified' or any other number of terms (mostly vulgar ones), you're in for a bit of a surprise as you're informed that they're “not in the dictionary.” Sometimes that's true and sometimes it isn't, but the omissions sometimes seem odd when words like 'satanic' and 'tits' and 'busty' are allowed without incident. Presumably, the developers were trying to protect us from polluting our own minds by spelling out words we already know?

Of course, some of the censorship could have been an effort to keep things clean online. WordJong features local multi-player, or you can head onto the Nintendo Wi-Fi service and play with people either from your 'friends' list or throughout the world. This is definitely a welcome feature, though we were unable to find any random matches. If you want some good competition, you'll either need to get lucky (in a completely non-sexual way) or you'll need to arrange a time to meet with another buddy who has the game.

Despite the occasional odd design choice and the unfortunate lack of competition online, WordJong is a solid package and a good investment if you're into games that test your gray matter a bit. The single-player campaign has plenty of puzzles to keep you busy and the multi-player potential is promising if you can talk a few friends into giving you a challenge (an easier task if you meet for a face-to-face, since then you only need a single cartridge). Certainly, there's nothing here that feels like a big-budget game, but the overall product is generally very good at what it's doing. If that's the sort of thing you like, go crazy!

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 07, 2007)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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