I envy writers who can always find the word they need, who can tumble through phrase after phrase and arrive at the end in short order. I tend to write ponderously, poking around for the best word for the job and questioning whole paragraphs as I go. That’s the kind of thinking that’s sure to get you killed in Writer Rumble (Free), a word game that isn’t for the slower and steadier among us.
No, the preferred strategy in this game seems to be to smash as many three-letter words into your opponent’s face as you can in short order, then scramble the board and try again. That’s certainly a good rumble, no arguments here. I just can’t help but feel I’m letting someone down when I throw down as Homer or Lovecraft with a staggering series of hits like Bat, Bats, Baste, Stab, and my crushing finisher, Stabs. Not a terribly eloquent combo, you know?
Writer Rumble is certain to draw in literary types with its aesthetic experience. You play one of six characters lovingly drawn from the history of the written word. Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, the brothers Grimm, Homer and H.P. Lovecraft are all present and ready to rumble. They’re cleverly described, humorously animated and I adore each and every one of them. I only wish their unique characteristics came through while playing.
Still, when they battle their way through the single-player survival mode, they travel through great libraries and battle literary demons. They bear special powers that let them manipulate the letters before them. Between rounds, Writer Rumble shares quotes about writing, writers and the power of words. It’s such a perfect environment, such great trappings for a word game. If the rest of the game could match up with that experience, no lover of words could resist.
Instead, we have a competitive word game that fails to significantly distinguish itself. It’s played on a five by five grid of letters. In multiplayer, both players scramble to find words made up of three or more adjacent letters, launching an attack with each one they select. The board stays static throughout. It’s Boggle, but scored as you go.
There’s a bit more to it, but not much. Letters have point values, so more complex words have some benefit. Each character has a selection of power-ups that can be used either against the enemy, for a higher score, or more survivability. The only one of these that regularly comes into much use in most matches is scramble, though, as your new best friend for clearing the board when you can’t immediately see an unused word.
Feel Every Yummy, the studio behind the game, came close to elevating Writer Rumble beyond being a brief distraction. The power-ups, the survival mode—these things hint at a deeper experience that wasn’t quite realized. Instead, you can look forward to frantic and brief matches online, via Bluetooth, or across the screen on iPad. There isn’t much else to do. This isn’t a terrible thing, but it’s also not all that compelling in the long run.
There is one outstanding problem worth mentioning: multiplayer connectivity is a mess right now. Server connections drop regularly, opponents drop out mid-fight (a problem that may have more to do with the win/loss ratio than the servers), and there are far too many long waits for an opponent to notice an invite or successfully connect. Presumably some of this will be fixed up – the developers are already working to improve the servers.
If nothing else, Writer Rumble is a game worth keeping an eye on. There is a near-painful amount of potential here, for what is already a reasonably entertaining multiplayer game. If the kinks are ironed out and a bit more goes into making the game and the characters within it stand out, it could be outstanding. As it is, this is a game that will delight the quick-fingered and quick-witted amongst the more literary minded in our audience. There are far worse things to be.