BY ADAM BONANNI Best I can tell, the only place in the known universe where bronze is worth more than gold is in Bookworm Adventures 2, the latest black hole disguised as a game from developer Popcap designed to suck up all your free time. Imagine scrabble with the twist of roleplaying game conventions: A health bar, potions, and a mess of augmentations and enhancements that you can give your words. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, I would be pretty curious to know what you are thinking right now. Bookworm Adventures 2 is actually much simpler than it sounds, and it’s the game’s simplicity that generates its strong appeal and makes it wholly accessible to anyone willing to pick up and play.
So about how it plays: The premise of the game involves a little bookworm, Lex, setting out on an adventure. Moving from location to location, Lex goes up against the villains of the game, who can only be taken down by spelling words out of the 16 letters the player is given. The longer the word spelled, the more damage it does to the enemy. There’s a scramble button to mix up the tiles if you’re stuck, but the game does a pretty good job of not throwing you too many “Z’s”, “X’s”, and “Qu’s” Certain tiles have bonus effects, such as dealing damage over time and weakening enemy attacks. Like the studio’s previous offering Plants vs. Zombies, new powerups and companions are gained as the player progresses throughout the world, doing a good job of not overwhelming the player all at once. There are a pretty good variety that range from simple things like raisingLex’s attack and defense to offering bonus damage if the player manages to spells verbs. Lex will gain over a dozen of these powerups, but only two can be taken into battle at a time; a neat way to add some strategy.
It’s unfortunate, however, that strategy only begins to come in to play well over halfway into the game. Early on, I chose a companion who gives you a healing potion every four turns. Essentially, this made me into an unstoppable bulldozer throughout the entire early game. After every battle,Lex is fully healed, and eventually, my companion stopped giving me the potions because I had easily maxed out how many I could carry; the creatures just didn’t do enough damage to warrant using them. Later levels were a rude wake-up call, since the difficulty ramped up when I got a bit further into the game, teetering dangerously close to “frustratingly hard”. Enemies dealt more damage and stunned theLex so much I could barely attack. More serious thought was needed to figure what was appropriate to take into battle, which was good since I feared my drip-feed of potions would make the game entirely too easy.
I particularly liked some of the mini-games that made use of the game’s word-search mechanics. The “Mastermind” inspired word guess was my favorite, where you had to guess the word in five tries as the game slowly offered hints based on previous guesses. Others include pulling as many words from a large word as you can, and a race with the CPU to see who can spell the most words the fastest (hint: it always seems to win). These, as well as the main adventure game are great to pull out on anetbook on the train as a fun, addictive little diversion.
I really liked what Popcap did with the graphics style for Plants vs. Zombies, not going overboard, but giving a cute and colorful charm to everything. I’m not too fond of the style that is used in Bookworm Adventures. Something about it feels ripped from 90’s educational software (I’m sure someone remembers Put-Put games). Looking at screenshots, the game itself doesn’t look too enticing, but everything is easily identifiable, and simple to navigate. Relegated to a small resolution blown up to fitfullscreen, things aren’t as sharp as they could be.
The audio is pleasing for a while, sounding like a storybook come to life, if storybooks made music. If you’re like me though, staring at the screen for ten minutes in disbelief there isn’t that final “E” to spell “CONSTANTINOPLE”, it can grate on your nerves during extended play.
FINAL GRADE: B
Bookworm Adventures 2 is available for the PC for $19.99 through the game’s official site. Visit the site to grab the free demo.