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Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: Wordament

Wordament Lead

Windows Phone has long been host to a number of quality word games, but they were all indie titles rather than Xbox Live ones. In fact, all the good indie word games even boasted multiplayer features, something long and inexplicably missing from mobile Xbox Live games. Of those indie standouts, one reigned supreme: Wordament, from a developer called You vs. the Internet. As it turns out, You vs. the Internet is a side project of a couple of Microsoft employees. Once Microsoft saw how well Wordament turned out, they made the wise decision to publish the game and bring elevate it to Xbox Live status. Wordament truly deserves all the visibility it can get, because it happens to be one of the finest and most addictive games on the platform.

One versus many

Wordament

First off, Wordament is a free, ad-supported game. Unlike previous free Xbox Live games, this one actually requires an internet connection (Wi-Fi or cellular) to play. Why? Well, Microsoft doesn’t make money if you don’t see ads. But more importantly, Wordament is built around a massively multiplayer component and live-scheduled games. Xbox 360 owners who experienced the now-defunct 1 vs. 100 game a few years ago should be familiar with Wordament’s multiplayer setup. Both games broadcast specific challenges to all players simultaneously; each person’s performance is then ranked leaderboard-style. Wordament differs from 1 vs. 100 in one major way: games take place all day, every day. You can play as much as you want – hop in, take on a few rounds, and quit when you’re ready.

Mind-boggling

Wordament plays a lot like an MMO version of Boggle.  Each round, the game presents a four by four grid of 16 letters. Players then madly scramble to find as many words as possible by touching and connecting sequentially adjacent letters. In other words, each letter in any given word must be adjacent (touching) the letter that came before it, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Naturally, you can only ‘find’ each word once per round – try to spell the same word out again and the letters turn yellow. Variations on a word: singular and plural, present tense and past tense, etc. count as separate words though. Spell a word that isn’t in the game’s dictionary (proper nouns and abbreviations are prohibited) and the letters turn red. Guess wrongly too many times in a row and you’ll lose the ability to input words for a brief time, Butterfingers.

Wordament differs from Boggle in many ways beyond the number of simultaneous players. For one thing, rounds last only two minutes instead of three. More significantly, both games have different scoring systems. Boggle simply awards points by the number of letters in each word, regardless of the actual letters. Wordament uses a Scrabble-style system in which each letter has a point value based on its rarity. It adds the value of each letter to assign the word’s final point value. Words with four or five letters get a 1.5x bonus, six or seven letters 2.0x, and 8+ letters 3.0x.

Special rounds

Special rounds affect scoring as well. Every few games, a Diagram or Themed puzzle pops up, signified by a sound effect at the start of the round. Digram tiles have two letters instead of one, such as –er or –at. Words spelled with these tiles get an extra scoring bonus. The number of possible digram words remaining is displayed at the top of the screen, creating an optional objective besides just hunting for points. Find them all (never easy) and you’ll get an Achievement. Themed puzzles look identical to normal ones, but offer scoring bonuses for finding words based on a specific theme like fairy tales or sports words. Locating every word in a themed set unlocks its own Achievement, too.

Rosetta stone

Wordament

In case special rounds didn’t add enough variety already, Wordament even features alternate languages to play with. As of this writing, the in-game dictionary can be switched to Spanish or Dutch (both in beta form), with more languages on the way. People who speak English as a second language will benefit the most when their native languages are offered, but any multilingual person should enjoy playing in his or her own second language.

Between rounds

45 seconds elapse between teach two minute game. This down time has two distinct phases highlighting the results of the previous round. For the first half, you can browse some personal stats like number of words found and average word length. At the bottom, two columns list of the words you found, as well as high-scoring words you didn’t find. Tapping any of these words will demonstrate how it can be located on the letter grid.

After a few seconds, the results screen shifts to the leaderboard for the last round. At the top, your position number is displayed as a fraction, with the denominator representing the total number of players for that game. Below that, the leaderboard is divided into up to three categories: Frenemies, Top players, and Players near your rank. The latter two are self-explanatory and show about 15 GamerTags a piece.

The Frenemies feature greatly enriches Wordament’s competitive aspect by making it more personal. I may not care a lot about how I compare to a sea of faceless names, but I do care about beating my friends! Any Xbox Live friends that played during the same round as you will automatically show up on the Frenemies list, making it easy to see how you stacked up. You can also tap on names from anywhere on the Leaderboard to make someone your Frenemy.

Improving the downtime

Wordament

Wordament does a fair job of keeping players interested during the downtime of the results screens, but it still has room for improvement. For one, I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to switch back and forth between the first results screen and the leaderboard. Sometimes I might be more interested in studying the word lists than who played during a round. In fact, for some people the leaderboard phase may seem like enforced boredom.

Second, the multiplayer nature of the game is somewhat undermined by the complete inability to communicate with other players. Obviously messages from random players would be obtrusive, but I wish we could message our friends. Sure, the time between rounds is brief, but at least give us the option.

Finally, the timer that counts down to the start of the next round on the leaderboard page is small and easy to miss while browsing GamerTags. As a result, I often find myself thrust into a match slightly unprepared. The developers should really implement a countdown sound effect (like the one that plays at the end of a round) to the results screen as well.

Achievements

As much as I love Wordament, I’m not crazy about its Achievements. Four or five of them will be forever out of reach of most players: Digram master, Theme titan, Win the hour, World champ, and You’re on top of the world. Finding all the digrams and theme words is tough - if only we could specifically choose to play special rounds... The other three problem Achievements are Leaderboard related and require an extreme level of skill at minimum. World champ in particular has a bunch of needless extra requirements (as detailed here) that aren't even listed in the Achievement description - not cool. All told, I fear that only a handful of players will get the top spots and hold onto them, basically preventing other people from attaining those Achievements.

Overall Impression

Wordament is simply an exceptional game. You vs. the Internet has built on the foundation of a classic word game and reached new heights with their multiplayer component, scoring system, and special rounds. Not only is it super hard to put Wordament down once started, but we don’t even have to pay for it, either. This is truly Windows Phone’s first killer app, with the potential to catch on just as much as Draw Something or Words with Friends. Microsoft already plans to bring Wordament to Windows 8, where it will undoubtedly find huge success. This in turn could lead to Wordament becoming a selling point for Windows Phone – but only if it stays exclusive to Microsoft platforms.

Get Wordament here on the Marketplace.

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Comments

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ousooner314 says:

It may be just me, but it has started to lag and freeze during games ever since it switched over to Xbox Live.
Also, this may be because I don't care about the achievements, but this is the only game that requires "Connect with Xbox LIVE" turned on. I don't care about those news and updates, and would prefer it turned off.
It's still a fun and challenging game!

AriesDog says:

Great game and the price is right. Love that it upgraded to Xbox LIVE.

Either you're talking out of your ass or you were implying free is the right price.

Paul Acevedo says:

What's wrong with appreciating its free-ness?

invertme says:

I have digram master but not theme titan.. yet..
 
I agree some of the achievements will be near impossible to get. I finish most of my round in the 91-96% range. That's still not high enough to earn them.
 
Anyways, the game is great and hopefully stays a WP exclusive. I agree it will be a selling point.

IsTrooper2 says:

Its the opposite for me. I can get Theme Titan pretty easily, but not Digram Master

toddos says:

I have Digram Master but am still working on getting Theme Titan.  My problem is that the categories are very vague, and often the words have almost nothing to do with the category, or words that should be in the category are not.  For example, I had a Colors category the other day, and "stain" was a category word.  How does that work?  More importantly, if "stain" is a category word, how is "stains" <b>not</b> a category word?
 
As the review said, some of the achievements are ridiculous.  I thought we were well past these types of achievements being used in games?  And from a Microsoft title, no less.  You know something is messed up when common suggestions for getting some of the achievements include, "Play in a different language (that you may or may not actually know), because fewer people play in Spanish than in English."

damielrohie says:

I usually finish my rounds in the 72-15% range. its because i never learned phonics so I dont know how to spell. so yes for someone like me of limited spelling intelligence most of the achievments are out of reach. i am thinking about taking a spelling class just to up my game. damn you mother for not teaching me phonics. she even reminded me on mother's day when i butchered some poor word with the sad mother voice "oh I really should've taught you phonics". thanks mom.

Paul Acevedo says:

She home schooled you?

damielrohie says:

No she was a teacher and was always trying to give us a leg up but with kids and me being the middle one.....well you know how it goes

ben55124 says:

Great game. I would happily pay to remove ads.
I suspect some leader board winners use boggle solvers. Easy to cheat with this type of game.  I notice their scores drop on the diagram games where the solvers don't work.
 

havox22 says:

The world champ one sucks, Im missing two achievments, that and the theme one, but yeah world champ sucks because of cheaters, it hurts the game imo, I stopped playing after they announched the requirements for worldchamp even tho I was top 250 in both points and averages, dont have time to stay in the top, and cheaters kill the averages as soon as I got close to the 85,000 point requirement I dropped like 100 in averages in a day while increasing my average....w/e I'll get all of gun bros achievements

laserfloyd says:

Great game but the cheaters really irk me because they blow the curve.  Anyway, I still enjoy it a lot even if I'm so-so at it. :)

DAZTK says:

I complained on twitter about the leaderboard achievement requirements changing when it became obtainable! Devs responded with some arrogant response! Haven't played this since!

yeahboats says:

I love the achievements. To be honest I was only worried about top of the hour, that seemed like the most difficult one to get. Luckily, I ensured I would get it while playing the spanish language wordament for an hour. :)  
 
How can people tell who is cheating? I think I've seen maybe one cheater, someone who finished top 10 with 18 words or so. The other anomalies, like boomrshine, wiketewok, discopidgeon, mztan, etc, I think are just insanely good. My average word count is around 54, to be elite it looks like i need to increase that to about 70, which I don't think is happening any time soon. Practice practice practice!
 
Still a great game and the theme rounds help break up the action. 

damielrohie says:

damn everyone on here seems to be a boss at wordament. my average is like 25 words. you people are like spelling wizards!

irlju#WP says:

I'd pay $5 for an ad-free version. The ad box never seems to display much anyway (at least in my case), so I can't imagine they are making much money off me.

tylerh1701 says:

A messaging system built into the game would be really cool to quickly chat with friends between rounds, and would help with that down time (which I think could easily be shortened to 30 seconds).
 
I've never had any problems with the timer, though a timer countdown sound effect would be a smart thing to include.
 
I actually got Digram Master and Theme Titan rather easily.  I don't remember exactly what they were, but I remember both only had 4 or 5 to find, so I spent my time looking for them and I guess I lucked out.

blackprince says:

I love Wordament, play it everyday. Score it the 90 percentile most games. I find its incredibly difficult to get into the top ten these days since the popularity of the game has taken off. Games used to average under 500 people when I first started, now most games average 1100+ people. Competition is fierce. On Facebook the devs said that longtime players will all bubble into the top 250 at some point in time to get the world master achievement, I still have doubts though.

Mooncow27 says:

Am I the only one that was expecting this to cost money? I would have paid for the ad free version. I am enjoying it very much but only get about 30 words per game. I will keep it up of course. I am rather enjoying it.

Elmenhorster says:

Don't know, if anybody mentioned, but now Swedish is available.
Edit:
And they added BETA to the new languages.
 
So now there is
 
 English
 
Spanish BETA
 
Dutch BETA
 
Swedish BETA
 
 

wordamental says:

You can improve your skills be training your brain to spot bigger words with a wordament solver. Try this one (easy to enter the wordboard). Just dont use it to cheat - really takes the fun out.