Having brought us games like Bit Pilot, Halcyon, and Unify, Zach Gage has some considerable credibility in indie gaming circles. His newest game, SpellTower, is a bit of a departure from his previous work, as he takes on the word game genre.
One of Gage’s aims seems to have been to make a game that’s not as dependent on metagame as something like Scrabble is. To be really successful in Scrabble, you need to have a knowledge of a lot of two- and three-letter words that you would almost never use in conversation. So while Scrabble is like a crossword puzzle in ways, SpellTower is somewhat more accessible, being more comparable to a digital word search.
The basic mechanic of SpellTower is that you string letters together by drawing a line from tile to tile until you’ve formed a complete word that’s at least three letters long. What makes this interesting is that you can draw this line in any direction from any tile; you can theoretically have a word that snakes all over the play area. You can also spell things backwards. It’s both liberating and challenging, because most of us are basically trained to read in only one direction: left-to-right.
One less reason to buy a newspaper.
Like in Tetris and Match 3 games, tiles will fall towards the bottom of the game’s play area when ones below them are used up. This is especially important in the game’s three unlockable modes: Puzzle, Extreme Puzzle, and Rush. In these modes, the game will add more rows of tiles to the bottom of the screen as you play. This happens every turn in the two Puzzle modes and every few moments in Rush. If at any point a column of tiles reaches the top of the screen, it’s game over.
These unlockable modes are definitely the most compelling ways to play SpellTower, but it’s disappointing that there are no more rewards dangling in front of you once you’ve earned them, a task that shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes or so. After that, there’s simply the game for its own sake, as well as Game Center leaderboards.
Other than the leaderboard competition (which is nothing to sneeze at), SpellTower boils down to a single-player experience that lives and dies on the pure merits of its gameplay. Perhaps a multiplayer mode in which players use the same board to compete against one another would have made this a better-rounded package. Still, even given the game’s structural simplicity, the core gameplay is enjoyable and will please fans of word games.