Spelling words is fun!
Due to the overwhelming success of the DS, many publishers have started porting casual web-based games to the platform. The success of this strategy depends heavily on what content has been added to the games to warrant purchasing something that could otherwise be obtained for free. Destineer is looking to use this strategy with the popular WordJong game that is available online at a variety of popular web sites, including WordJong.com.
The online version of the game, which you can easily try out for yourself, explains the base concept well. Each puzzle piece has a letter on it, and words must be spelled using those letters. As in Mahjong, pieces can only be used if there are no other pieces covering them. Letters have values associated with them, similar to those found in Scrabble, so using more difficult letters like "Z" and "X" will award higher word scores.
The big question with a game like this is, "What has been added?" The single player mode that is most like the online version of the game is called Temple Challenge. The goal of this mode is to simply spell as many words as possible through as many puzzles as possible, increasing your personal rating as you go. Wild cards can be earned with longer words, and unwanted moves can be undone in order to better set everything up to clear the board. Skilled play in this mode can lead to extremely long sessions. Luckily, a run can be saved at any moment. For quicker sessions, a daily mode is also included. Each calendar day, a new board and score goal is available. Unlike other games with similar modes, like Brain Age and Picross, previous days can be played, so you aren't required to turn on the system every day. You can go back up to two full years, giving you upwards of 730 different challenges to work through whenever you feel like it.
The biggest piece of added value players will receive for buying the DS version instead of playing online is the Battle Mode. In this mode, two players take turns spelling words. In some puzzle games, the multiplayer modes aren't that much different than playing alone. The fact that each player in WordJong is playing based off of the same stack of letters adds an interesting layer in WordJong. In any of the single player modes, players will want to look ahead, not only spelling great words but also revealing the best possible letters for the next word. In multiplayer, you want to leave terrible letters for your opponent. If you can force them to pass, you get a free bonus point and the ability to erase one of the letters, potentially opening up the board for more words. This feeling of competition in the battle mode really balances out the slowly paced standard mode.
This battle mode can be played against the computer, against a local player (in both single-card and multi-card play), or against someone online (both friends and strangers). While the online mode lacks any form of communication, the fact that it is included really adds to the longevity of the title. What better way to prove your spelling prowess than to make other human beings look silly? The game even keeps track of a lot of statistics to track your progress and intimidate your foes. Overall, these community features are what really make this game a winner.
Usually, it's a pretty safe bet that a DS version of a Flash game isn't a good deal. However, WordJong has some new features and comes in at a great budget price. Spelling fans should be happy to add this to their DS collection. Is there a such thing as a fan of spelling? I think so, and this game even stands a chance at creating a few more.