Customer Review

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good puzzle game, but harsh penalty system may be off-putting, December 27, 2009
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Bookworm - Nintendo DS (Video Game)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
From PopCap Games, makers of the fun and addictive Zuma and Plants vs Zombies, comes Bookworm, another challenging puzzle game for casual players. It's a good way to work your brain as well as make the time go faster on commutes, while waiting at the doctor's office, or exercising on the treadmill.

The idea is simple. The goal is to string together tiles to form words of 3 letters or more. The longer the word, the bigger the score. A free Flash version is available on PopCap's website, but the DS version has many more features, like an Arcade Mode, Library, and 2 Players Mode. You only need 1 copy of the game to play against a friend. In the Library, you can keep track of your stats like how many words you created, secret word books, and room backgrounds you've unlocked. All together, there are 20 secret books to unlock, with 12 words each. It's very hard to get all the words, and there's no reward of any kind for completing each book, besides bonus points. You don't get any special animation, fun pictures, or unlockable secret options. Zilch.

One thing I don't like is that you have to hold the DS sideways, like a book. Very few games do this (most notably, Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword and Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!) and there's really no reason for it. The gameboard could simply have been arranged horizontally to allow ambidextrous play. I find it less comfortable to hold the DS upright, and it also prevents lefties from playing.

Another big design flaw is the harsh penalty system. Burning tiles will start falling with increasing frequency if you make 3 letter words. The chance of being penalized rises with each level, and by 10+, I'm getting penalized almost with 100% probability. If you don't clear them right away, they'll start burning down your column of tiles. When they reach the bottom, it's game over. It is not explained in the manual that the game penalizes you for short words. At lower levels, this is infrequent, but at higher levels (9+), this becomes a huge turn-off, as almost every 3-letter word causes a fire tile to appear, making this game unfit for younger kids with limited vocabularies. Sometimes 4-5 letter words cause fire tiles. Then it degenerates into a frustrating game of clearing the penalty letters first instead of leisurely clearing letters to make words at your own pace.

To make things worse, the letters are not weighted, so you're just as likely to get a tough letter like J, V, Qu, X, Y, or Z as you are to get a commonly used and easier to combine letter like R, S, T, L, N, E. For example, I got 3 burning V's in a row in one game. When you clear a column of letters, if you are going to be penalized, the red tile will always appear at the bottom of the new stack of falling letters. If you are stuck, you can scramble the board an unlimited number of times, but this penalizes you by also dropping burning tiles. By level 10, I'm getting 4 burning tiles with each scramble. At higher levels, I got 6 or 7 burning tiles. If you need to scramble the board, that means you are stuck with bad letters that you can't combine. But scrambling causes you to be put in an even worse situation. A scramble is seldom ever helpful. It doesn't simply rearrange all the existing letters on the board. It shuffles all the tiles randomly into new letters. Secondly, it is counted as a turn, so any burning letters already on the board will burn down 1 block after the scramble. I find this sadistic and not fun at all. Players should not be punished for playing. A better system would have been to give you a finite number of scrambles (like 3), which you can use at any time without penalty, then let you earn more as you hit score milestones (say, every 20,000 points).

Unlike the online version, there's no way to tell how much the letters are worth. The web version has dots under the letters to indicate their worth (1 to 3 dots). The DS version only shows you the points after you create a word.

Lastly is the strange dictionary where words like "Luo (an African tribe), haka (traditional Maori dance), loa (Haitian voodoo spirits), lek and som (unit of money in Albania and Kyrgyzstan, respectively) are accepted, but words like "India", "Rome", "dork", and "dong" (Vietnamese currency unit) and not. "Moo" (cow sound) is accepted, but "poof" and "Saturn" are not. With certain words, a definition pops up, but I am at a loss to explain how these words were chosen. Usually, these are very obscure 3-4 letter words, like "qua", international monetary units, or little-known animals, and names of esoteric native peoples. "Vat" is defined as a tax (value added tax) instead of the more common meaning of "container" (like "a vat of chocolate"). No definition is given for longer words.

Verdict: it's fun for a little while, but gameplay gets very repetitive. The overly-punishing penalty system really drags down my rating, and makes this game too difficult for younger players. At higher levels, it's no longer very much fun due to the frequency of the fire tiles and lack of a rich reward system. The music is also monotonous and somewhat irritating. It's very low-fi sounding and one of the percussion instruments just sounds like static. Overall, it's fun for maybe 30 minutes at a time only.
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