I love word games, but they have a bit of a PR problem: the vast, vast majority are glorified takes on the word search with a new hook here and a novel mechanic there. And y’know, I don’t really mind—give me a reason to frantically form words and I’m usually happy. Letterbox [$1.99] is a pretty good reason. It’s a game in the word-search mold, bringing in 3D block stacking for its special touch.
Word hunting in 3D is entertaining on its own, but Letterbox goes a step further. Finding words is a means to an end—the real goal is to use those words with a variety of special blocks to tear your tower down. It becomes a game as much about destruction as it is about creating words.
Though ShockPanda is keen to call the game “Jenga meets Boggle" in its marketing material, the Jenga comparison is a bit loose. There is no fear of collapse, here, no tottering physics. Instead, you carve away at your cube with each word you make, letters disappearing and leaving gaps behind.
It’s easy to create precarious outcroppings of letters that become utterly useless. But with a little careful planning, you can carve away their supports and let them tumble down. In Jenga this would be a failure—here it’s a necessity. Once reunited with the bulk of your letters, those left over Ws and Ks that were so useless on their own become powerful tools.
The more awkward letters of the alphabet are marked as orange blocks rather than white, and each one is destructive in its own way. Sometimes they’ll clear a tunnel straight through your tower, other times they’ll clear all the blocks that surround them. That’s great, because your ultimate goal is to clear away 100 percent of the blocks on screen. It’s a high bar to reach, but it’s a lot of fun to try.
There are other special blocks to help you strategize. Some rotate whole rows or columns. Another merges nearby blocks into a single mega-block. I have a love/hate relationship with the one that drops down a new layer of letters. It slows down your climb toward 100 percent, but it may be the only thing to do if you can’t find a word in what you have. And, of course, wild card blocks are always a treat.
Letterbox comes complete with three game modes. In Clear Mode, every word you play drops more letters on the pile. In Panic Mode, they’re added every few seconds. Chill Mode gives you only the letters you start with. They’re minor iterations on the original concept, but they switch the game up just enough to keep it from getting stale too quickly.
Though the fundamentals are solid, Letterbox flubs some of the details. The camera is reined in too tightly, so you can’t always see the letters on top of the tower or deeper inside it well enough to tap them. The interface is uncomfortably reminiscent of SpellTower [$1.99] at times. The soundtrack borders on grating—it’s full of well-executed electropop by Yung Sir, but vocal tracks don’t mesh well with extended play sessions.
It’s fun to destroy your way though each tower of letters, compelling enough to keep an eye on Game Center to see if you can come up with the best word or the highest clear percentage. But ultimately Letterbox is one more play on traditional word game mechanics, and it isn’t quite cool enough to overcome the creeping sense of familiarity. If you’ve been looking for a new word game to pass the time, check it out and let us know what you think. If it would take something really special to convince you to drop one more word game onto the pile, this isn’t the game to get you there.