App Review: Bookworm for iPhone

crump Bookworm logo

One of the great things about gaming on the iPhone is the mindless entertainment it provides on my long commute. When that mindless entertainment actually forces me to use my brain, it’s a bonus.

At its core, Bookworm is a simple game. You have a grid of randomly-placed letters from which you form words that at least three letters long. After you use the tiles, remaining ones are shifted down and new letters appear at the top. The goal is to earn as many points as possible. You earn more points for longer words. If you create a lot of short or common words like “the,” burning tiles will appear. A burning tile is bad news. If that little fireball hits the bottom of the screen, the game is over.

While you can’t move the tiles around, if there’s a section you can’t make any words from, you can shake the iPhone to redistribute the letters. Doing so, however, increases the likelihood burning tiles will make their unwelcome appearance. It’s an “in case of emergency” feature to try and salvage a game gone bad.

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There are ways you can increase your score other than using big words. Occasionally, you’ll get a flashing tile on the screen; using that tile earns you extra points. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen, Bookworm displays a bonus word. If you create that word, you’ll see a nice increase in points. You also earn a bonus if you make all the words in a category — if you make hammer, a screen will pop up with all the other words in the tools category, for example.

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As you earn points and gain levels, the tile distribution increases the challenge and you’ll also see more burning tiles appear. This is one of the more aggravating parts of the game. It’s a real bear to form words when one quadrant of your grid is seemingly made up entirely of the letters “y” and “t.” My other frustration is that the dictionary can be lacking. While I don’t expect it to contain certain four-letter words I’m fond of using, there were a few times it refused to accept words I know existed.

In addition to the Classic Game mode I’ve just told you about, there’s a mode called Timed Game. If the Classic Game has the pace of a leisurely walk through a park, the Timed Game feels like you’re blasting through security while trying to catch a plane. Burning tiles will form at set intervals and if they reach the bottom, like in Classic, it’s the end of the game. I didn’t like this mode at all. My brain kept freezing trying to form words. I much preferred the slower pace of the regular game.

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Bookworm is $4.99 on the App Store, and I found it well worth the price. It’s my current game of choice when I’m in line behind someone writing a check for 69 cents and they forgot their Ralph’s card.

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