You know that feeling you get when you play an RPG and you manage to work your way down every trail and fill out every inch of the map? Apply that to word games and you have Chris Garrett's QatQi [Free], a game that's as much about exploring as it is about spelling.
That's not to say it isn't about spelling at all, though. Those of us with minds for 8-letter words and endless combos of prefixes and suffixes will dominate. It's just that exploration and tactics play a huge role in the breakdown of every final score, and they can't be ignored. The wide maps of QatQi free us from the yoke of the typical word game grid. It's a rejuvenation the genre badly needs.
In some ways you can think of QatQi as a single-player Scrabble stretched out, with all the bonus tiles tucked away. It has the seven-letter drawer we're all familiar with. You build off the words you place as you go, and the scoring changes based on the complexity of the letters you use.
So why exploration? QatQi's levels are laid out like dungeons (or, less dramatically, buildings), with multiple wide-open rooms. Hidden in each of those rooms are a number of gold coins, and finding those gold coins gives you massive rewards in the score department. Each gives a large bonus to the word you put down on top of them, and each room you clear gives an extra bonus to boot.
That means there are two routes to high scores in QatQi. One is to try to find every gold coin in each level, or as many as you can. The other is to find a few, and use them to their limits. Every letter you add to a word scores it from scratch, so coming back to a high-scoring word with new prefixes and suffixes is a great move. Those score additions include bonuses, too. It's great fun to find a high-scoring area and exploit the heck out of it.
Now, as any good video-game explorer knows, finding your way into every nook and cranny requires freedom—to poke around, to wander into dead ends and trace your steps back. So too in QatQi, where the Undo button is paramount. It feels like cheating a bit, to suss out the location of a gold coin or see into the future of your letter selection, but it's a huge part of the game. The only part of the game that costs, in fact.
You start out with a significant number of Undos, enough to easily get you through the early learning curve. After that, you can buy them in packs of 1000. That's a lot of reconsidering and rearranging. On a long enough timeline, I'm certain you'll be able to throw quite a lot of money into QatQi. If you do, it really seems like it will be worth it.
If you manage to pull together both the exploration and word-scoring elements of QatQi, you'll place well on the game's custom leaderboards. You'll likely place well on a few no matter what: the leaderboards are granular down to your zip code. You might need to tell your friends and neighbours if you want competition at that level, but things look a bit better from the country or world boards. If you're more keen on competing with yourself, you can see a detailed breakdown of your performance for each level you complete, one that ranks you on word length, efficiency and gold coins, among other things.
All this, and it's a looker, too. There's a familiarity to its stylings, a psychedelic bubbliness that was last seen in Osmos [$0.99 / $4.99 (HD)]. Coincidently, the game's artist is Kun Chang, who worked on that very title. The whole thing looks a tiny bit cramped on smaller screens, but on iPad it's pretty glorious. There are a few hitches in the interface, a few places menus linger longer than they should, but on the whole it's smooth as silk.
So there you have it. Depth, strategy, and looks, all wrapped around tried-and-testing word-building mechanics—that's QatQi for you. If you're into word games, you really can't fail on this one. It's good to break out of the grid every once in a while. Stretch your legs, look around—your vocabulary will love you for it.
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