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Review: Word Dungeons crosses spelling with spells

Developer: BlueRift Studios
Price: $5/£5
Size: 372 MB
Version: 1.0
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Word Dungeons

Word Dungeons caters to a particular demographic: fans of both letter jumble puzzlers and mysterious dungeon explorers. Playing feels a bit like solving the NY Times’ Spelling Bee whilst searching for ancient treasures in the dark.

Each run sees you delving through a randomly-generated dungeon, collecting gold and progressing through each chamber by solving anagrams against the clock. 

Every few rounds, you’ll encounter a random event or a shop where you can find runes and power-ups to aid your quest. These feel worthless at first, as you breeze past four-letter challenges with ease – but keep them around and their power grows, as does the difficulty of the anagrams. Each round flies by, making it easy to dip into for just a few minutes, though a full run through the dungeon takes some time.

There’s a hardcore mode that ramps up the challenge further for true word nerds to test their mettle, although that side of the game rarely amounts to more strategy than simply “find all the words”. There’s a little more strategy in choosing how to handle your various items and powers, although don’t expect the kind of crazy game-changing synergies you might find in other roguelike games such as Slay the Spire or Dicey Dungeons.

It’s a neat concept, expertly rendered with terrific visuals and chilling sound effects that combine for a wonderfully spooky atmosphere. There’s not much else  quite like this on the App Store.

Sadly, the game’s drab user interface doesn’t live up to the quality of the 3D visuals. The muddy iconography is straight-up confusing at times, resorting too often to walls of text to explain how things work. To really get to grips with the quirks of the game requires a lot of rules reading and a couple of playthroughs. A “show, don’t tell” approach would perhaps have been more elegant – or at least a more distinctive design for the runes.

But power through that learning curve and you’ll find a smart game that feels like a throwback to early days of the App Store, for better and worse: a single up-front price; an experimental genre mash-up; lots of replay-ability; an emphasis on high-score chasing; and of course, those slightly awkward skeuomorphic menus.