The art of scholarly warfare has raged for at least ... a couple years. When were board games invented? Before Zynga ripped off Scrabble, right? Sure, Words with Friends and Writer Rumble may inhabit the same App Store now, but Writer Rumble emulates the word slinging of a different bookish puzzler. Players harness the vernacular of history’s prominent literary figures in this cheeky twist on Boggle, and the additions of character-specific power-ups and the competition of multiplayer will put your dictionary knowledge to the test.
For gamers unfamiliar with the intricacies of Boggle, the rules are simple. The player(s) form words from a jumbled mess of adjacent letters spread about a plastic/virtual grid, and the length of each word determines the amount of points competitors receive. On the surface, Writer Rumble contains very little to get excited about unless your idea of fun includes crossword puzzles or word finds. A manual details the basics of stringing letters together by dragging your finger horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, but this mode also accustoms you to the ten available power-ups. These abilities alter the gameplay in more ways than words can describe.
Writer Rumble marks the first video game publishing by GameFly, a company known for their online rental service.
In the solitary survival mode, you compose idioms and terms that hurl themselves at waves of ghosts, blobs, imps, and other caricatured monsters, and select up to three unique power-ups that increase your chances of verbal victory. Scramble creates a new board mixture once you exhaust the known letter combinations, Health regenerates a portion of your life meter after the next word spelled, and Double Points inflicts twice the amount of damage to cartoonish ghouls. Squandering power-ups too early comes back to bite players immediately, as multiple failures on waves three and four taught me. Unlike Boggle's traditional scoring rules, however, Writer Rumble borrows a page from Scrabble, assigning point values to every letter. Although character selection matters little here – whether you choose macabre writer Edgar Allan Poe, romantic novelist Jane Austen, etc. – the difficulty gives little pause between each wave to build your literary blitzkrieg.
There’s more room for error at the heart of the multiplayer, as matches last anywhere between ten seconds and two minutes, depending on both players’ vocabulary and randomly dealt letters. In addition to Edgar and Jane, the Brothers Grimm, Agatha Christie, Homer, and H. P. Lovecraft comprise the minimal roster (developer Feel Every Yummy intends to add new combatants and modes later). Including defensive and offensive capabilities, several power-ups also aim to sabotage the other player. Edgar’s Blackout spell hides three random letters from the opponent for a short time, while Howard can suddenly rotate the game board upside down. Again, careless flaunting of powers, such as using Jane’s Scramble when the board has not been cleared of all available terms, may ruin your streak if you encounter a more complex scholastic hodgepodge.
To keep the multiplayer fair, Writer Rumble gives players the same assortment of letters.
Oddly, my taps did not always register on the touchscreen in the case of power-ups, especially when I needed a quick health jolt, while swipes and drags never failed. The character-specific casts have no analogous ties to the writers’ works, too. What does Agatha’s Reverse Speller (the opponent must spell words backwards for ten seconds) have to do with her career as a writer of crime novels and short stories? How does Homer’s ability to briefly halve damage received relate to his work on the Iliad and the Odyssey? It’s not a deal breaker, but players get the feeling that any well-regarded authors could have been substituted in these characters’ stead, such as J. R. R. Tolkien or Emily Dickinson.
Unfortunately, I also experienced numerous issues trying to connect to other players online. The developers released a patch claiming better network performance, though I still failed to join a lobby 80% of the time. That’s really disappointing, because I have not gleaned this much multiplayer enjoyment from $0.99 before, even in matches that I lost. During each round, you’ll be too busy focusing on the collection of letters onscreen to pay heed to what combos other wordsmiths are hurling your way, yet the game breaks down the highest scoring terms at the end of the match. Few puzzle games deliver a deeper satisfaction beyond forming a six-letter word to seize victory when any one of your rival’s next attacks could have spelled game over. When servers are down, friends still seeking a challenge can compete on the same iPad at least, or connect to a another local device using Bluetooth.
Despite the inconsistent online experience, I never got frustrated with the game. Instead, Writer Rumble drove me to better my vocabulary using its compendium of recognizable terms – some profane, some of different dialects. Reflexes became faster, and wits sharper. Multiplayer matches may end at the drop of a hat, or be drawn out depending on effective power-up usage, but the simple survival mode can provide similar thrills while servers currently undergo maintenance. In this literary throwdown, the developers at Feel Every Yummy prove the pen (finger?) is mightier than the sword.
Publisher: GameFly Games
Developer: Feel Every Yummy
Release Date: November 29, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2 (Local, Online Multiplayer)
Platforms: iOS (Reviewed)