Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Review
The debut title from Canadian indie developers Bacon Bandit Games, Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey is a cheery, turn-based RPG that revolves around words, much in the vein of Popcap’s Bookworm Adventures.
Players assume the role of Grimm (and, later in the game, his unlockable compadre, Rose) and bash their way through various colorful levels by use of their vocabulary skills. While the game’s cartoon graphics and vibrant playstyle will certainly be most appealing to young players (late-elementary/early middle grades), the title has enough depth to make for a decent, albeit short, experience for players of all ages.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey offers players a total of 40 stages to play through, spread across 5 different areas, each with their own artwork and accompanying music. Within each stage, there are 4 separate challenges denoted by stars. Unlike in other titles, the stars do not represent a sequential order of play, but simply serve to show the player which stages they have completed. This allows the player to work their way through the complete game (and follow the loosely presented storyline) without the necessity of completing every challenge.
Players begin each level presented with a board of 15 letters. Each letter has corresponding point values (broken down into bronze, silver, and gold) and the objective is, much like in Scrabble, to play the largest words possible using the best tiles available. Larger words (usually) mean larger amounts of damage dealt to the game’s opponents, collection of crystals (the game’s currency) and faster completion of the level.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey incorporates a variety of enemies with different modifiers that help make gameplay all the more interesting, and force players to get creative with their vocabulary. Some require special attack patterns (e.g. only receive damage from 4 letter words, double-damage dealt with vowels), while others dish out random damage/impediments to the player (such as broken tiles that lose their value, or poison tiles that sap health if played).
The individual challenges are mostly fun, including standard playthroughs, timed trials and harder levels with the aforementioned unique enemy modifiers. Players might find themselves gravitating back to preferred methods of play, however, and discover that they don’t get much out of some of the more challenging levels.
As play progresses, players collect crystals, the game’s form of currency. Crystals can be used in the game’s store to buy various items unlocked through gameplay. Items cover a wide span of benefits to the player, including new scythes for Grimm with special damage bonuses, health boosters & potions, and special books that affect gameplay. Overall, the game store (accessible in the main map, and during some levels) is a major positive in Letter Quest, as it really allows players to customize Grimm to fit their own vocabulary playstyle and create unique challenges.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey employs cutesy graphics & simplistic music on a rolling screen, much like every other title in its genre. The cartoon-esque graphics are average and lack a great deal of flavor, meaning that, although the backdrop and music do change with each of the five stages, the levels don’t end up looking or sounding all that different throughout play.
The game’s interface is very easy to use and can be entirely controlled from the keyboard for players who prefer not to use the mouse. Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey highlights allowed words as they are typed, and provides vocabulary definitions for each successful word played. The vocabulary definitions are occasionally odd, however. with some words defined as their Latin root, rather than their contemporary English meaning. Nonetheless, this is a great feature from an educational standpoint and bolsters its value as a title for children.
The option to see player point values (i.e. how much damage you will cause in your next turn with your selected word) or the damage your enemy will cause to you can be purchased through the game stores with crystals. Like Scrabble, players can sacrifice a turn in order to re-roll letters for their board. One feature missing that would be helpful is the option to shuffle the letters on your board (think Scramble), as this often helps gain a fresh perspective on the letters available.
For new (and younger) players, the first-time playthrough has an extremely helpful pop-up tutorial that explains both the word-based strategies needed in the game, as well as how to utilize its light RPG elements, including the use of potions and purchasing from the store. For those on Steam, the game also includes 52 unlockable achievements, which can often add a fun flavor to a game. This is especially so in Letter Quest, where new vocabulary challenges are a must for seasoned players of word games, who will likely blaze through the initial levels.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey is definitely a title that would appeal to older grade-school children (the definitions and word strategies needed are a positive educational tool), but it can also provide enjoyment for players of any age who enjoy simple word games with a little action thrown in to move things along. For seasoned players of word games, however,the game is unlikely to have enough of a draw and challenge to really make it worth the investment.
Challenges are unique enough to make play fun in the short run, but the analogous feel to the game’s levels mean it may not be a title with high replay value. Price-wise, the game is average ($7.99 standard on Steam) for its genre, and not unreasonable for a time-filler. Its real value lies as a fun, engaging educational tool for children to practice vocabulary skills, rather than an outstanding entry into the adult word games market.