Developer: Spry Fox
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Update! The talented folks at Spry Fox have worked hard to support Alphabear 2, with around 18 updates since our review. Besides the usual fixes and optimisations, they’ve added special events, tournaments, and a whole bunch of UI and quality of life improvements.
How does it play today? Spry Fox’s take on the word jumble game continues to be characteristically cute and cuddly. The core bear-expanding action is as solid as ever, and we appreciate the tweaks and additions that have been made. The honey freemium system is still there, but the rough edges have been sanded down somewhat, especially if you pay to remove the ads. The word game scene is a competitive one, but Alphabear continues to do its own thing with some style.
Revised rating: Remains a distinctive, if overly busy word game. ★★★★
Our original review, written in September 2018, is presented in its entirety below.
Developer Spry Fox is well practiced at creating cute yet quirky puzzlers, from the original merging puzzler Triple Town to the haunting block slider Road Not Taken.
Neither of those classics has received a sequel as of yet. Rather, it’s the company’s nifty take on the word game, Alphabear, that gets the follow-up treatment.
The premise of Alphabear 2 will be instantly familiar to fans of the original. It’s a word jumble game where tapping out words using a grid of random letters causes cute little square and rectangular bears to fill the vacated space. The more words you form and space you clear, the bigger these bears get, yielding a whopping end-of-round bonus.
There’s a twist, though. Each letter has a Scrabble-like (though unfixed) value, which also serves as a countdown timer. Each word that goes by without letters being used knocks their value down, and when that figure hits zero the tile turns into an immovable rock.
Thus Alphabear 2 becomes a delicate balancing act of extracting the maximum score out of your letters and clearing up precariously low (and low-scoring) letters. That’s not the only strategic element either, as you need to keep in mind which bears you have chosen to represent you for that round.
As you progress through the delightfully silly campaign mode you’ll unlock new bear characters, which imbue you with helpful modifiers. Up to three of these can be selected prior to each round, and they’ll do things like boost the number of turns a certain letter gets, or add 5 to the value of four-letter words.
What these various systems ensure is that the longest word doesn’t necessarily win the day. Like all the best word games, it’s the smartest use of your letters that counts.
Alphabear 2’s gameplay is solid and compelling, but it’s not the aspect that helps it stand out from the crowd. That would be the sheer level of charm, style and warmth that Spry Fox imbues its game with.
Its square bears are adorable, while the cartoon world they amble around in is packed full of incidental detail and humorous flourishes. The story is nonsense, of course, but the dialog is written with a joyful spark.
One example of the love and attention that’s gone into the game comes immediately after a round is completed. Here you get a little shareable image, with a bear spouting a carefully selected madlibs-style template. Into that template Spry Fox inserts the words you’ve just formed.
The game seems to have a fairly loose idea about how these words should be used (it even has its own dictionary), so the results are often bizarre and occasionally hilarious. Some of the examples had us helpless with laughter, though sadly they’re also unprintable.
Alphabear 2 stops just short of being an unqualified classic due to a few structural issues. While its gameplay is sharp and refined, the menus, scoring systems, and freemium elements are a bit of a mess.
At a basic level, it never feels obvious what specific score you need to achieve in each stage, or how well you’re doing while you’re in it. More problematically, there’s an annoying Honey currency that grants you access to each round, which will run out if you play too many games in quick succession.
Watching ads stops yielding more honey after a few attempts. You can pay a hefty chunk of cash to disable those ads, but this doesn’t remove the irritating Honey system itself.
There’s also a bewildering array of alternate modes and features, none of which really enhance the core experience to any meaningful degree.
Alphabear 2 is a game with considerable core strengths. It’s bright, warm, funny and a whole lot of fun. Spry Fox just needs to trust that this is enough – and give us a proper premium option – should there ever be an Alphabear 3.