There are plenty of excellent indie word games for Windows Phone (Words by Post, AlphaJax, and Spell It, to name a few). Even Wordament is available as an indie title, though it will shortly be jumping ship to Xbox Live land. But for now, there is a single Xbox Live game that involves finding words from an assortment of letters (i.e. anagrams): TextTwist 2 from Game House. Does it scratch the word game itch as well as the other games I mentioned? Well, Text Twist 2 honestly does contain both text and twisting, but unfortunately it lacks the polish and magic of other Game House titles or even its indie competitors.
Shake the cup
First off, TextTwist 2 is much closer to Wordament than Words by Post – that is to say, it’s based on or extremely close to Boggle rather than Scrabble. You won’t find any crosswords here, nor do you need to build on the words you find in any way. Text Twist 2 has several distinct game modes, but all involve trying to find words from an assortment of letters in order to earn points and/or complete a game round. There is no penalty for guessing incorrectly or spelling a word not found in the game’s dictionary, although the timer continues to tick down in time modes.
The game gets its name from the twist button, which rearranges the letters on the player’s ‘rack,’ so that he or she might better find a word when stumped. Twisting can be used an unlimited number of times per game. When you’re really stumped, you can choose to Pass and skip to the next round in some game modes. You only get two passes per game, so use it judiciously (or more likely, not at all). Modes that don’t offer the Pass option simply allow players to Give Up and try again.
TextTwist 2 has five game types, each offering a slightly different word finding experience and degree of challenge:
Standard: In this mode, players have two minutes per round to find as many words as possible. Each word you locate appears in the box at the top of the screen. You’re only allowed to find a set number of words of each length – for instance, five 3-letter words, four 4-letter words, and so on, though the numbers vary by the assortment of letters given.
The true objective of Standard is to find a Bingo word – the longest word possible with the letters given. If you have five letters to work with, this would be a 5-letter word. There may be multiple possibilities that use every letter provided, but players can only enter one such word per round. After finding the Bingo word, you can either proceed to the next round or stay behind and find shorter words to increase your score. Standard goes on forever until the player runs out of time, at which point the game ends.
Untimed: This mode plays just like Standard except it lacks a time limit. Of course, in a game where there is already pretty much nothing at stake and no real progression, removing the one element of challenge beyond simply finding the words doesn’t help.
Letter Mania: Here you need to spell multiple words in order to reach a certain target number of letters used within the time limit. The target number increases steadily as players reach new rounds.
Lightning: The object of each round is to find five specific words from their corresponding letter sets with a time limit of 1:20. If you don’t select any letters, the letters of the target word will slowly be revealed. Finding the word without letting all of the letters appear results in a small time bonus.
Daily Word: A daily challenge to find a 7-letter word. You can also find a single word with 3-,4-,5-, and 6- letters for additional points. After finding the target 7-letter word, either the game ends or you can go back to find the shorter words. Daily Word is a nice idea in concept, but it really does force you to wait exactly 24 hours or more before playing again. It really should let players return any time the next calendar day rather than expecting us to remember or guess what time we played the previous day.
To progress or not to progress
It’s tough to care about TextTwist 2 games for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the lack of stakes. Unlike Boggle or the indie Scrabble clones I mentioned earlier, there’s no multiplayer, which would provide an incentive to care about the game’s outcome. It’s incredibly easy to cheat using an anagram website like this one. Sure, it takes the sport out, but at least you’re not ruining anyone else’s experience since it only affects you.
A single player anagram game could still work, but it needs a good progression system – something for players to work toward and care about. Here players can unlock a total of 10 Fun Facts, one for every 100 words they spell. Ten pieces of trivia that are highly spread out is not particularly compelling – I could hop online and find 50 or 100 interesting facts with far, far less effort. The only other metagame element is trying to find 5,000 words for an Achievement, which is both laborious and boring.
Overarching elements aside, even individual games are just dull, dull, dull. Each round of just about every game type is identical to the one before it except for the assortment of letters players receive. Letter Mania at least gets harder each round, but even then, reaching round three or five is no more fun than just starting a new game. Where’s the sense of adventure? Maybe the developers should have made a game about something exciting like lion taming, or at least chartered accountancy.
Put a bag over its head
The other element contributing to TextTwist 2’s massive boringness is the presentation. The menus are among the worst in an Xbox Live game. Players have to press down and hold a selection to pick it instead of just tapping. An icon-based interface with larger buttons and instant selection would work so much better. Plus you’re usually forced to pick Continue between rounds and even just to see the Game Over screen, a redundant and awkward step. TextTwist 2 started life as a PC game, and it feels like the interface wasn’t suitably adapted for mobile phones.
Then there’s the graphics and sound. The visuals are generally competent but entirely sterile. In Standard and Untimed Games, the table of words that can and have been found is awkwardly laid out though, requiring the player to manually scroll left or right to view them all.
TextTwist 2’s sound is more offensive than its looks. The music is utterly horrible and sleep-inducing, as if the game's boringness was a deliberate decision that the developers wanted to hammer home. Worse, you can’t turn it off without also disabling sound effects – a common flaw in Game House titles. I recommend starting up a peppy song in the phone’s media player before launching the game if you want to keep your eyes open.
Thanks to the cheating websites I mentioned earlier, none of TextTwist 2’s Achievements present an actual challenge. The hard part is actually caring enough to spell 1,000 and then 5,000 words for the two associated Achievements; I’m still working on those. The game tracks word count in the Statistics screen, at least.
I really wanted to like TextTwist 2, but it’s just too mediocre to hold my interest. In the absence of multiplayer, a game like this absolutely needs a creative presentation and metagame. Without that, it’s just mechanically doing the same basic thing over and over again. Upcoming Xbox Live game Wordament shares similar mechanics, but should be far more addicting. Game House has published several fantastic Xbox Live games like Doodle Jump, Sally’s Salon, and Tiki Towers, so let’s forgive them this dud.
TextTwist 2 costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Marketplace, I guess.