What awakens Shaun from his mobile gaming review slumber? I mean, besides NEOGEO games and the occasional Shovel Knight game. There are two pieces of cheese that might work. He loves word games, and he loves RPGs. What if we were to combine the two? Delightfully devilish, Trailblazer Games. Sure, this isn’t a combination we haven’t seen before. Letter Quest – Grimm’s Journey was a great one, for example. But I’m always keen for a new one, so let’s take a look at Tomes and Quests – A Word RPG ($4.99) today.
Right off the hop I’ll say that despite some obvious effort going into the game’s story, I found myself getting tired of it pretty quickly. Three friends get sucked into a book, and they’ll have to battle their way through an RPG style adventure to get out. There’s dialogue between events to help flesh out the story or just crack some jokes, and while it’s decently written I just found it all to be fairly banal. At the same time, I’m not really expecting much in the story department in a game like this. It would have been nice, though.
The game is broken down into quests, which themselves involve a series of events. An event might be a battle, but it could also be a brief story scene, NPC encounter, escape sequence, and so on. Most (but not all) of these events will involve playing a word game of some sort. I’ll give the game credit here for finding a lot of interesting ways to mix up the gameplay. The standard battles are like playing Scrabble (complete with matching letter point values) on a small board. As you play, more gimmicks come into play even in these matches. There are double score squares, coins to pick up, bombs to defuse, and so on. Each word you play will deal proportional damage to the enemies, and you can match elemental types to deal extra damage. The enemies will hit back after every word you play, and you need to kill them before they kill you. Experience collected, levels gained, treasure looted, moving on. Boss battles work the same way, but they’re a bit harder.
Sometimes you do something different, though. Like sometimes you need to put down words within a set number of turns to extend the line horizontally a specific amount. Maybe you need to place words to reveal shadowed squares on the board, again with a turn limit. Sometimes the board will be divided into two different colors and you need to score a certain number of points in the areas of one specific color. You might be given a jumble of letters and have to drop single tiles to try to make as many words as possible. These word minigames are a nice diversion from the main gameplay mechanics while still using your vocabulary skills.
As you win battles, you’ll level up and even get some new equipment. Eventually you’ll be able to class change, which is something Shaun likes. If you’re feeling underleveled you can go back and re-fight earlier battles. They’ll get harder each time you win, so there is only so much grinding you’ll likely be able to do. It might make the difference, though. Individual levels don’t tip the scale too much, though. Indeed, sheer luck in which letters you’re given is probably more important than a level or two. Better equipment also helps, but nothing matches up with being able to make a word with Q or Z right out of the gate.
Not too shabby on the whole, and it’s one of those games where you can just dip in and play for a bit and then dip out as needed. I do have some problems with the game, though. The biggest problem for me is in how the actual process of playing letters works. They’re in a tray near the bottom of the screen and it is actually surprisingly tough to grab them without closing out to the home menu if you’re not careful. Similarly, it can be a bit fussy about placing them on the board. You have to drop them just so for them to stick. Luckily, placing them in the wrong space doesn’t cause any issues. You confirm once your word is in place and anything you do up until then is your business. I’d like it if the letter tiles were a bit bigger in the tray or if the tray itself was moved up a bit.
I’m not sure which dictionary the game is using for its words, but there were cases where it wouldn’t accept words I know were valid. It was rare, but it happened now and then. I’m also of two minds about the size of the board. On the one hand I can appreciate that its size forces you to play smarter, since it can be easy to clutter things up into a mess with one bad play. On the other hand, its relatively small size limits your freedom in making words to the point that you end up using a lot of smaller ones to get through without messing up the board. I have similarly split feelings about the difficulty curve. As I said, a level doesn’t really tip the scales much. If a player gets stuck, what little grinding the game allows likely won’t help much. They’ll have to just keep trying until they get lucky, and that’s not very enjoyable.
That said, even with all my little gripes, I can’t say I didn’t have fun with Volumes and Quests. I won’t say you can’t screw up a word game, because you certainly can. But there is a certain joy in flexing the old spelling bee muscles and getting a virtual pat on the head for being a smart boy like it’s elementary school again. This game builds its bones around that pleasing feeling, and while some of it could probably be done a little better, there are some things here I really appreciate. The various minigames were interesting and gave a little extra challenge. I kind of enjoyed the way the quests were set up, like little mini-episodes in a long campaign.
While Tomes and Quests isn’t up to my long-time favorite RPG/word game hybrid LetterQuest, it’s a decent spin on the concept that could be a lot better with some usability fixes and slight balance tweaking. If you love word games the way I do, you’ll likely get your money’s worth out of it. That said, it’s not quite up to the level where I’m going to shove it in everyone’s face, which is a thing I totally do sometimes. Oh, I should have used a ‘spell’ pun somewhere. Wait, my word count is up? I guess that’s it then.