Review by Radical Edward 116
"Fun and relaxing, WordJong's got something for everybody."
Mahjong is a great game. Scrabble is a great game. So it stands to reason then, that a combination of the two would also be a great game. And here to prove it is WordJong Party for the Wii. WordJong Party isn't perfect, but it's a lot of fun for anyone who likes puzzles or word games, and a great party game for even those that don't.
Boot WordJong Party up, and you're immediately eased into the game's soothing Asian-influenced atmosphere. You may be caught off guard at first by how many menu options there are after you've chosen an avatar to represent yourself, but once you've learned the nuances of each game mode, you'll be thrilled that there's so much to do.
First up is Party mode, which as the title of the game suggests, is probably the meatiest of the modes. Party mode can be played by yourself, but is most fun when played with up to three other people. Because four players are required to play, CPU players fill in for anyone missing. To play WordJong, you must put together words using letters that are arranged like tiles on a Mahjong board. In other words, using a letter on top will uncover more letters below it to use. Some letters are worth more points than others, just like in Scrabble. In Party mode, other players can interfere with your word-sleuthing by activating items such as a whirlwind that mixes up your tiles. The items can make things more interesting, but can also be turned off on an individual basis on the menu. There is another variation on Party mode where each person makes only one word per round, but it's less fun. I don't know why they could not have included a Wi Fi option, but oh well.
I tested the multiplayer modes with my girlfriend, who is a Scrabble nut. It's worth noting that at first, not being an avid video game player, she had trouble selecting tiles with the Wii controller. In Party mode, the tiles are much smaller, and so it is somewhat difficult at times to select the tile you wanted. Also, the font used for the letters makes some of them look too similar to other letters when they're shrunk down. For example, the J looks an awful lot like an I to a first-time player. After playing for about ten minutes though, she was able to overcome both of these problems, and so was I. These problems really are not present at all in single player, where the tiles are larger.
If you choose to play alone, WordJong offers a fairly meaty single player experience as well. In Battle mode, you climb a mountain, defeating various animals at the game to progress. At first, you only have access to the bronze path, but a silver and gold path will open for those with enough skill. The battles in single player could have gotten fairly monotonous, but luckily many of the battles up the mountain offer variations on the basic formula. While some challenges simply add a time limit, others have you working as a team with a CPU character or trying to win by a margin of 30 points. I do however have a complaint about this mode. The CPU characters will quite often say something generic, and then take a few moments to think about its move. While I can appreciate the game trying to make them seem more like human opponents, it sometimes really disturbs the flow of the game and frustration can set in if you've already spotted your next move, but the computer is taking its sweet time.
If you grow tired of facing opponents though, CPU or otherwise, there is also a Daily Puzzle mode, which gives you one new puzzle a day to solve. These always involve you trying to clear a board completely while beating a set score. They're often difficult, but they help to keep single player from ever getting too stale.
Another nice addition to the package is the inclusion of achievements and rankings. By completing certain tasks, such as creating a 9-letter word or beating the Bronze path in Battle mode, you receive a butterfly as a trophy, which you can keep track of on the menu. Your rank also increases by using as many tiles as possible. The game already has plenty of replay value thanks to the multiplayer and daily puzzles, but the incorporation of the trophies increases it even more.
Finally, I cannot stress enough how relaxing this game is to play. Lovely Asian music accompanies all the modes, while all of the puzzles take place in zen gardens or ponds. In single player mode especially, you can often find yourself just zoning out and entering a zen-like state of relaxation and word-building that few other games can provide. The graphics are nothing special, but they don't have to be since this is a word game. Really, my only other complaint with the game lies with the fact that the CPU (and you, if you're experimenting) can often come up with words that don't really seem to be words. I have a fairly expansive vocabulary, but I've never heard the words roc or xi before. They are in the dictionary, but since the CPU has the luxury of automatically knowing every single word and the average player does not, it can make things unfair at times.
I definitely recommend WordJong Party to anyone looking for a new party game, for anyone that loves word puzzles, or for anyone just looking for a relaxing game to unwind with at the end of the day. There's something for just about everyone here, and it's bargain-priced to boot.
And by the way, xi is the fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/23/09
Game Release: WordJong Party (US, 12/18/08)
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