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Preview: WordJong brings good fortune(s)


WordJong fills a noticeable void in the DS's puzzle game lineup: word games. That makes it interesting by default. Luckily, it's also pretty interesting in and of itself.

WordJong is basically Scrabble and mah-jongg mashed up together into a pile of tiles. Each tile has a letter on it, and you arrange those tiles into words, gaining access to more letter tiles as you clear the top and sides of the pile. Bigger words and less common letters give you more points as in Scrabble. It interestingly provides two separate modes of advancement, one based on the traditional video game level structure, and the other on Brain Age-style daily gaming.

The "main" mode in WordJong is the Daily Puzzle. This is a pre-determined puzzle made up of specifically-placed tiles, and is only "completed" when you've used every tile. You can undo any move, and there's no time limit, so when you get to the bottom of the stack and run out of possible words, you have to back out to an earlier spot and try again. It's common to have to back out five steps or more to come up with a combination of words that uses every letter. Each puzzle has a high score to beat, and I have yet to even approach the high score. I have no idea how many Daily Puzzles there are, but I do know that it's a great feature, and that it's powerfully intimidating to start one of these up thinking that there's at least one known "solution" that I would basically have to guess.

The Temple Challenge is a more traditional level-based game, in that you progress from puzzle to puzzle. When you complete a puzzle, you get a fortune cookie, complete with pseudo-philosophical fortune cookie text. I cannot express how cute this is, and how much I appreciate that flourish. You also earn "awards" in this mode, which correspond exactly to the idea of "Achievements" on Xbox Live Arcade.

Speaking of Internet gaming, perhaps the most significant feature of WordJong is its online play. I was not able to test the Wi-Fi Connection-based game, but I was able to try the Battle Mode in local wireless. Battle Mode puts two players on a single puzzle, taking turns to spell words. The competitive aspect comes not only from trying to outscore your opponent, but from delighting in stealing the tiles that you only find out they needed after doing so.

I'm having a lot of fun with WordJong so far, when I'm not overcome with the desire to destroy it out of frustration. What seems like a very simple, casual game gets brutally, and appropriately, difficult very quickly.

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