19: Bookworm Adventures

Now Bookworm wasn’t on the list to start with, because in the dim and distant past I downloaded a one-hour free demo on Steam. For reasons unknown to me, the install was glitched such that it actually took in the region of 60 hours to run out. There are two amazing things in that sentence, firstly that it did eventually run out, but the main one is that I played it for sixty hours. And wanted to keep playing. Anyway, I finally made good on my debt and bought Bookworm Adventures in the last Steam Sale, and I’m using that as an excuse to spend some time telling you why this is the greatest thing Popcap have ever done.

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You are thrust into the slimy carapace of Lex, bookworm battler, and tasked with travelling through various types of books to do some kind of ridiculous tacked-on plot that doesn’t matter. Point is, to get through these books, you fight! To fight, you spell out words with the tiles in front of you, and the longer the word, the more damage you do to your literary adversary. That’s…that’s pretty much it. I mean there’s special tiles that pop up that’ll like, do long-term damage or freeze the enemy for a turn, but forget that, the core mechanic is astoundingly simple: spell words to hurt mans, and that’s all there really is. So why am I praising this as if it were a new variety of sliced bread?

Thinking back to Plants V Zombies, all it did was teach me a pattern, and hone my ability to efficiently reproduce that pattern (sun sun sunflower sun sun…). Bejewelled is maybe a little more open, with more possible positions, but that just teaches you to look for the various patterns that you can quickly manipulate to match blocks. Peggle just teaches you to randomly spaz balls around a pinball machine and act like it’s amazing. The whole of casual gaming seems to trend towards these basic and repetitive patterns, without ever encourage you to leave them and try something innovative. It’s comfort gaming, and while there is a time and a place for just slumping in front of a monitor with your eyes glazed, you know deep down that a trained monkey could do this as well as you. Bookworm, though, has the entire English language as your armory, and so the range of things you can do in a given situation is in the tens of thousands. I’ve always been a guy who’s a little bit crap at word games, who skips out those rounds in Countdown with the letters, so this was reasonably new and interesting.

And I love how you develop strategies, ways to try and cheese the bookworld. If you play too many easy words, bad letters accumulate (what scrabble player doesn’t remember the curse of having about four I tiles), so you warm to those words that allow you to creatively dispose of the crud while still maintaining your momentum. Votive, Idiom, Saviour, good high-scoring words that gain a little respite for the E, R and S you’re continually using. The game accepts both American and English spellings, will you betray your nation to gain some easy, cheesy points with Humor? If you have ten letters with one more needed for Exaggeration, will you hold out or accept it’s beyond your reach? My friends, the strategies are limitless, and I love that this is how the game has me thinking.

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Problems? Well, yes, it’s a game where you spell words to hurt mans, that’s it. If that isn’t appealing, it will be a bit of a damp squib I’m afraid. Also Lex is somewhat prudish in the words he’ll allow so you can’t go around defeating monsters with a flurry of fucks, which I’m sure will disappoint some people. But this game is different enough, and produced well-enough, that I can recommend it as something you should try once. Trust me.

4 stars, 10 hours played (since buying it, anyway. Like 70 hours played in total)

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