Monday, August 3, 2009

demo monday: bookwork adventures volume 2

spell away, little friend Mothers the world over know about Lex the bookworm from Bookworm Deluxe, a word scrambling PopCap game dating back to 2003. My own mother has been known to keep a single game going in a browser window for days at a time. More dedicated gamers will probably know the character from 2006’s Bookworm Adventures, which took the fun of spelling words and married it to some RPG elements to create something new.

That sounds pretty damn sarcastic, but PopCap’s Bookworm Adventures was, somehow, a blast, and its sequel, Volume 2, has proven to be no different. That should hardly come as a surprise, since they’re essentially the exact same game.

Some truly fantastic games have come about because an intrepid developer decided to slap together two different genres to make something new. Mario Kart was born when someone decided to give some Mario items to race car drivers. Puzzle Quest happened when they mixed together Bejeweled and Final Fantasy and baked them for thirty minutes at 275 degrees.

Like those two games, Bookworm Adventures takes two great tastes and makes them better. At the bottom of the screen, a 4x4 grid of letters. Click letters in sequence to spell words – the longer the better! You want longer words, because longer words do more damage to your opponents. Yes, there are opponents, and they’re also trying to take you down.

Different letter tiles have different effects – glowing green ones will heal Lex, glowing purple will poison your enemies, and glowing red ones will set them on fire. There’s a lot of different stuff that’s going on, but at the core of the game is a nice mix of word jumble and spelling that tickles a side of your brain that HAWX just can’t.

Everything I’ve said so far applies to both games. In fact, if I kept typing forever and ever, most everything I’d say would apply to both games. They’re very much the same. As someone who plays and then talks about games, this puts me in a pickle: do I enjoy more of the same and go easy on the game, or do I damn the lack of innovation and criticize?

It really depends on the attitude of the game in question, I suppose. Take Mega Man as one example – each cookie-cutter sequel in the series (with rare exceptions) feels more rushed and effortless than the last, and it feels like everyone from the producer to the play testers has been phoning it in from start to finish. Lots of sequels are like this, and given the ever-rising cost of development it’s hardly surprising. Thankfully, this second leg of our bookworm adventure is as fun and fresh and wittily-written as the last, making this one a game you’ll play through in short order.

As for the demo itself, it is thankfully meatier than last week’s outing with ‘Splosion Man – I played through the game’s first five levels (here called chapters), each made up of five or so opponents, and I still hadn’t made it through the demo even after a good solid half-hour play session. At $20, the price tag is a little steep, but this one’s a well-crafted game for gamer and grandmother alike.

PopCap’s Bookworm Adventures Volume 2 is available for $20 via Steam or from PopCap’s Web site. Played first five chapters of demo.