For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: EveryoneBy Billy O'Keefe
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
It's been a down year for the Nintendo DS' puzzle library, which has seen only a trickle of great additions after a few years in which gems practically rained from the sky.
How savvy, then, of Destineer to send reviewers fresh copies of one of those games that got lost in the shuffle of 2007's downpour. "WordJong" combines two dependable concepts — Mahjong and Scrabble — into one sleek game that's simple enough to sell itself, and if you never played or even noticed it last year, it's as good an addition to your DS library as anything that actually came out this fall.
If you've played Mahjong — and between the tidal wave of Flash, mobile and other iterations, you've likely played or at least seen it — "WordJong" immediately makes sense. Like Mahjong, the object is to match titles and score as many points as possible while ultimately clearing all titles from the board.
The difference, in case you don't see it coming, is that instead of matching symbols, you're spelling words from the selectable tiles on the board. As with Scrabble, larger words and words that incorporate uncommon letters yield more points.
Merging the two games makes as much sense in practice as it appears to make on paper, and "WordJong" does nothing to get in that concept's way. The controls — whether you prefer the touch screen, buttons or both — work exactly as expected, and the game's interface is pleasantly simple. Destineer throws in a few wrinkles, including an undo button and the ability to occasionally destroy a stray tile, but they're optional and only serve to enhance the game's user-friendliness.
Destineer also takes a page from Nintendo, with exceptional results, in the features department. "WordJong" features a daily puzzle to solve (complete with high score to overcome), and the calendar stretches back from present day to December 2006. Collectable rewards and a RPG-like Temple Challenge further sweeten the single-player experience, and "WordJong's" multiplayer component accommodates local (single/multi-card wireless or pass-the-DS play) and online (two players) competition, as well as demo sharing with friends who wish to sample the game.
Destineer's shrewd reminder of "WordJong's" existence had more to do with promoting the all-new "WordJong Party" for Wii than anything else, but in a year in which the best puzzle system around is hurting for new puzzle games, it doubles as a smart reminder of overlooked gems worth a second look. Given all this one contains — and taking into account the extremely inviting $20 price tag — it's a smart reminder that not every game worth playing in 2008 actually came out in 2008.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.