W.E.L.D.E.R. for iPhone and iPad
So, you say you enjoyed those word-search puzzles flung at you in third grade—the ones where you’d try to find the words hidden in a large grid of letters. And you appreciate the satisfying effect that occurs when you clear a Tetris row. And you relish games that slowly but oh-so-surely become more challenging over time. And you have a thing for steam punk interfaces. Then Ayopa Games’ $4 W.E.L.D.E.R. is for you.
At its very core, W.E.L.D.E.R. is that word search game. You create words of four or more letters by swapping in nearby letters. So, for example, you have the letters PUSN nicely lined up. Tap S and then N and the two letters change positions, forming PUNS. When this happens, the letters vaporize, you earn points, and, Tetris-like, any letters above them drop down. (If you’re lucky, those shifting letters also form words, which are immediately cashed in). You can also swap letters that aren’t in the combination you’ll eventually create. Instead, choose one of the eight letters that surround the letter you want to swap. Additionally, there are wooden “blank” letters you can double-tap to create any letter of your choosing. So if you have N-U-M-Blank-L-E-S, you can double-tap on the blank, type in B with the old-fashioned typewriter keyboard, and you’ve got NUMBLES. You can form words horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally.
So far, ho-humish. Now, for the twists and turns: You’re required to create a specific number of words per round and are provided only so many initial swaps to do the job. You earn additional swaps by forming new words (which earn you points). The longer the word, the more points. There are also “special” letters on the board. Some are simply worth more points because they’re harder to use (X, for example) but others can’t be moved, some have a gold sheen that makes them worth more, some multiply the word’s score, and others are so locked down that not only can’t they be moved until they become part of a word, but they don’t drop down when letters below vanish.
As you move up through the levels you are required to form more words with fewer initial swaps. In addition, you’re provided with harder letters—vowels and choice consonants such as S, N, and R appear frequently in the early levels. Expect to see a greater number of less-common consonants such as Z, X, K, and Q in higher levels.
Balancing this somewhat is the ability to form words in different ways as you progress. For example, as you move up through the game’s levels, you earn the right to form words from a backward string—SNUP or TNIAP, for instance—as well as place the last letter of a string at the front (and vice versa), or swap in a letter from any place on the board you like.
In its first iteration, W.E.L.D.E.R. could be frustrating. You’d find yourself boxed in with enough swaps left to do something, but no opportunities presented themselves. You knew you were doomed, and all you could do is play out the game until you had no moves left. Worse yet, the next time you played, you had to start all the way from the beginning. Version 1.1 has addressed each issue.
First of all, there’s the new Apocalypse Swap. When you’ve got nowhere left to go, you’re allowed to completely wipe and repopulate the board—one time per round. It’s a desperate thing to do, but if it’s your only way out, it’s nice to have the option. Secondly, you can now restart the game from the last level you finished with. No more trips over familiar (and now, too easy) territory. And, as with the original version of the game, you can sync your game with iCloud, allowing you to pick up where you left off on a different iOS device tied to your Apple ID.
Now, the finer touches that make W.E.L.D.E.R. artful instead of just playful. There isn’t a single reason on earth to slap a steam punk interface on this thing except that it looks very cool. But the developer didn’t stop there. Just as unnecessary-yet-lovely are the ambient background sounds that whoosh and tick along in the background.
Words With Friends players are accustomed to occasionally uttering “Wait, that’s a word!?” yet have to venture outside the app to confirm it. With W.E.L.D.E.R., that’s not necessary. All the words you create appear below the main play area. To look up the definition for one of them, just tap the word. If the definition is in the game’s built-in dictionary, it appears. Otherwise the game reaches out to the Web (if you’re connected to the Internet) for the definition. So, not only do you get the satisfaction of creating a word out of apparently nothing, but you can learn a new word that you can spring on your Words With Friends and Scrabble partners.
Taken altogether, W.E.L.D.E.R. is addictive, instructive, and a pleasure for the senses. If you have the slightest interest in word games, you should own it.
[Christopher Breen writes plenty of words as a Macworld senior editor.]