Tuesday, September 20, 2011 5:53 PM
GRL Games is known not only as the studio of one Graeme Devine, it's also developing a reputation for bringing video chat to iOS games. Last month we reviewed Full Deck Hold 'Em [Free] and found its video chat implementation fascinating. Now something word game fans can experience the joy of face-to-face play in the studio's latest, Word Chat [Free; Normally 99�].
With one update under its belt already, Word Chat should be a well-executed experience. But while its single-player modes are great fun, the game doesn't succeed universally � and it falters, strangely, in the multiplayer experience.
No matter the mode, Word Chat centers around making words out of seven random Scrabble-esque tiles. The words are scored on the letters used, with a modifier added for length. Five letter words are worth double, six letter words are worth triple. For those who manage a full anagram of their tiles, quadruple multipliers are waiting.
Solo, Word Chat offers four ways to play. 200 Tiles gives players (you guessed it) 200 tiles to work through, seven at a time, to earn the highest score possible. Countdown gives players as many tiles as they can work through in 100 seconds. Infinite Play is like Countdown, but additional time is rewarded for words that are four letters or longer.
Word Solitaire was added in the game's first update. It presents players with seven columns of tiles, with only the lowest row exposed. Players must make words with the exposed letters and work up the board until all the tiles are used, at which point they level up and start over. This is easily the most challenging, and potentially frustrating, mode. You can replace up to three random tiles, but in my experience it's not uncommon to reach to the end of a level with no workable words. Having a solid strategy helps, but there's an element of randomness that leaves things occasionally frustrating.
Multiplayer throws you up against a Game Center opponent in Countdown mode. Both players use the same pool of words to keep things fair, so you're kept from seeing your opponent's words. This results in an oddly disconnected experience where the two of you play in parallel until a winner is presented at the end. You can't really take the time to chat, either, since you're on a tight timer.
Worse, there doesn't seem to be any way to decline video chat � at least not while playing with a friend (I wasn't able to find a random match to try it in). You'd best trust any Game Center friends you play with to stay on task. At least you can toggle your own camera on or off.
In Full Deck Hold 'Em, video chat makes a lot of sense. Seeing the expressions of your opponents adds another level to the poker experience, and the game is slow paced enough that you can have a conversation while you're playing. In Word Chat, it's a gimmick. A few tweaks could help, but when it comes down to it short-form word games probably aren't ever going to be very well suited to video chat.
The single-player content of Word Chat is worth the asking price alone (or lack of asking price, in the case of the sale that's taking place as of this writing). I'm particularly fond of 200 Tiles, because it provides a slow, thoughtful experience that most anagram-hunting games avoid. If you're looking for the next Words With Friends [$1.99] you won't find that depth of multiplayer here. But as an inexpensive way to entertain yourself while chatting with a friend, Word Chat will more than do the job.<!-- PHP 5.x -->