Review: Tumblewords is a cute iOS word game, but not ready for prime time
At a Glance
Minicore Studios’ $3 Tumblewords—which is sort of a mix between Scramble/Boggle and Scrabble—is probably the most attractive word game I’ve ever seen for iOS. There are currently five different themes to choose from, each of which features beautiful, hand-drawn illustrations. There’s even a “Snakespeare” theme by web comic artist KC Green, and the developers assure me that they plan to introduce more themes in the future. But beyond the lovely design is a game with a lot of potential, yet it isn’t quite there yet.
Playing Tumblewords is simple—perhaps too simple. Each single-player game of Tumblewords consists of 15 turns. Your goal is to get the highest score by finding words on the game board in those 15 turns. When the 15 turns are up, the game is over, and you can view your score and a few stats, like the longest word you played and your highest-scoring word.
To take a turn in Tumblewords, just tap letters to form a word. You can tap adjacent letters, but only vertical and horizontal—you can’t move diagonally, like in Scramble or Boggle. Once you’ve found the word that you want to play, tap the word again to submit it. Each time you submit a word, the letters tumble to the other side of the screen, which mixes things up a bit so you can start searching for words anew.
Below the board of jumbled letters, you also have a Scrabble-like tray of seven tiles. You can switch any of these tiles with a tile on the board, but you can only switch a tile once per turn—you can’t just constantly switch tiles around until you get the perfect word. If you accidentally switch a tile, no worries, just tap that tile again to undo the move. The seven letters in your tray tumble into the board after you’ve played a turn, so there is some strategy involved with how you use your tiles.
As you create words and get points, three stars at the top of the screen start to fill up. Once one star is filled, you win access to four bonus moves: flip, change, shuffle, and fill. Their actions are pretty self-explanatory; Flip lets you change two adjacent letter tiles, change lets you transform a tile to any letter, shuffle, well, shuffles up the board, and fill fills in the open spaces with more tiles.
The game is pretty relaxed. You play at your leisure, as there’s no time limit, which makes it a great game for when you’re just shooting the breeze with friends. It’s also got a couple of multiplayer modes, including a pass-and-play (which includes fewer turns), and Game Center compatibility.
But the chilled-out nature of the game is sort of the problem. While Tumblewords is beautiful and very thoughtfully designed, the gameplay lacks that extra “oomph” that makes you want to come back and play again. There’s no time limit, no leveling, no achievements, and no goals aside from getting a high score. The mix of Scrabble tiles in a tray and finding words Boggle-style seems a little haphazard, since there are no penalties for accidental switches. The bonus moves are disparate: the first two are minor moves that don’t change the board too much, while the latter two change everything. Overall, the gameplay seems disjointed.
I’m a huge word game fan, so I really wanted to love this game. But as it stands, I find myself playing seriously for four or five turns, before I get bored and start popping off three-letter words just to finish the game. Tumblewords is a gorgeous iPad- and iPhone 5-optimized game, but the gameplay needs some polishing.