Developer: Jeffrey Taniguchi
Price: Free [$4.99/£4.49 full unlock]
Size: 106 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
“Mahjong Solitaire meets Scrabble”, claims the Sparrows app blurb, and that certainly seems an apt place to start. The goal in each of the game’s five modes is to form words out of the letter tiles that lay stacked up in a loose jumble.
Only the letters on top of the pile can be used, so forming words serves the secondary purpose of freeing up more tiles – and thus more options – for subsequent words.
The Scrabble angle is emphasised by each letter having a familiar value. You’ll want to get those Qs and Zs in play. When you reach certain word score thresholds, special multipliers (Double World, Triple Letter etc.) get applied to subsequent letters.
The word-forming action itself is the best thing about Sparrows. Together with its crisp and stylish presentation, some deeply pleasing letter animations and subtle haptics serve to make putting letters together a tactile joy.
Even so, there’s something fundamentally missing here compared to the very best word games. The process of which letters are freed up as you chip away at them feels somewhat opaque.
Given that key modes rely on a certain amount of forward planning, this is problematic. Nowhere is this more apparent than Puzzle mode, which requires that you ‘complete’ the board, using up every last letter.
Perhaps we’re just not smart enough to think ahead, but it always feels like pure chance when you happen to be left with the exact letters to form a final word.
Sparrows is ostensibly a free game, but paying the premium unlock fee will unlock the final two modes: Endless and Word Search. Endless mode does what it says on the tin, and feels a little shapeless and pointless as a result. It would be better if it would save your progress, as it’s the kind of mode that demands to be dipped in and out of during idle moments.
Word Search mode is a bit of a disappointment too. You’re given a list of words to ‘find’ among the jumble, but given that all of the letters together make up the jumble, it feels like so much busywork.
At other times, right across the five modes, you’ll find that you simply can’t go because you don’t have the right letters at your disposal. This is where the special tiles along the bottom come in, enabling you to do things like delete a letter, jumble the pack, or Search (essentially auto-complete) words.
These special counters are finite, and will need to be refilled by spending some of your in-game currency. These can be earned through play or through in-app purchases. Given that using one of these occasionally feels like a necessity owing to the random nature of the jumble, it can feel a tiny bit cynical.
Ultimately, Sparrows is an extremely sharp and tactile word jumble game that hasn’t quite nailed down its core word-jumble mechanic. But considering its best modes are free, word game aficionados have no reason not to give it a go.