Remember that vocabulary work book your eighth grade English teacher made you slave over back in the day? And your ninth grade English teacher, and your tenth grade English teacher, and so on? And how you thought none of that would ever really pay off? Well fear not, because Continuous Integration wants to put all your hard-won vocab knowledge to use in Word Ball (Out Now for $0.99; Lite)!
Amazingly, this one turned out way more fun than I would have given it credit for judging from screenshots alone. The player’s job is to tap out words from an alphabet that randomly migrates around the touchscreen. As in Scrabble, points are awarded based on word length and letter usage, with consonants like “Q” and “Z” prized over the easier-to-use vowels. Here’s the kicker: each letter is timed to expire after a few minutes, its timer reset every time the player uses it in a word.
Naturally the same word can’t be used twice, so the player really has to plumb the depths of his or her brain to keep as many letters alive as possible. Once a handful have disappeared, the slippery slope to defeat sets in! Thankfully a list of already used words, accessible via the game’s pause menu, helps the player strategize.
As far as word games go, Word Ball makes for some very addictive tension once it gets rolling. The importance of touchscreen mechanics make it feel like something that absolutely must be in videogame form, rather than a mere adaptation of something that could have been accomplished on a physical game board.
Word Ball‘s Classic Mode is tough yet accessible. Vocab mavens who can bust out words faster than John Wayne can sling revolvers have two challenge modes to look forward to: a Frenzy Mode speeds up the alphabet’s decay rate, and a Sprint Mode gives the player only nine letters to work with at random. The usual smattering of OpenFeint achievements are also on tap.
I have no complaints with Word Ball‘s user interface; everything feels perfectly responsive. The game’s aesthetic presentation is sharp enough for the Retina display, but it’s too bad there aren’t more tunes on offer once the violin track wears out its welcome. Nor is the game friendly to external iTunes tracks at present. Word Ball‘s dictionary could also stand to be expanded a bit to include new terminology. I’ll forgive it for not accepting my attempt to use “noob,” but I would argue that “iPhone” has earned a well-deserved place in the official English lexicon!
iFanzine Verdict: If you’re not of a mind to seek out word games to begin with, this one doesn’t do much to convince you otherwise. If you happen to enjoy games of this stripe, however, consider Word Ball an excellent and highly polished offering that won’t disappoint.