WordTag Free – Like Draw Something, But With Words (iOS Review)

iOS developers have done the word game to death. You can’t flip a page in the app store without running into some minor variation on the Scrabble concept, and it really comes across as a field for which all the novel ideas have already been discovered and exploited unto exhaustion. So right away, let me throw some praise at WordTag Free – it really comes across as a novel, fun game. If the prospect of using your superior vocabulary to describe things creatively (rather than spell out words) sounds like a worthy way to spend your iPad/iPhone gaming time, then click on in, because the good people at Juxta Labs have put together a promising title you’ll want to check out.

WordTag Free’s concept is strongly reminiscent of the hit app Draw Something – only with words instead of art. You select one of three words, ranked in ascending order of difficulty. Your task is to describe this word in 120 characters or less, so your partner can guess it. As an added twist, six words will be pre-emptively made unavailable – spelling out those words will give you the option to either unlock it for use, or result it in being censored in your game (but you can just delete and rewrite your sentence on the fly.) So, for example, you may have to spell out the word “Edison”. But “bulb”, “electric”, “inventor”, “scientist”, “light” and “power” may be the words you initially are unable to use. It really comes across as a truly inventive approach to this sort of game, one I’ve personally never seen done before – and it’s clear that Juxta Lab crafts each word choice carefully to truly make things challenging.[singlepic id=9792 w=320 h=240 float=left]

While inventive, the interface is extremely straightforward and intuitive. Starting games is as simple as clicking a button and choosing whether to challenge someone by email, Facebook, a random player, or friends who are playing the game at that moment. The asynchronous multiplayer design again is reminiscent of Draw Something – you simply describe your word and send it off, or receive a word and watch as your opponent types out their explanation in realtime. It was this realtime typing out that seemed pretty superfluous to me – it’s one thing to play a game where you can watch someone struggle to draw either some primitive caricature of a word, or an overkill work-of-art of same. Watching someone type out what will be at most a 120 letter sentence, in comparison, just feels like a bit of a waste of time.

For those who need a little help figuring out a word, various boosters are available: dynamite will blow up extra letters, while other boosters reveal the last letter, first letter, or vowels in the word. You can also pick up boosters that unlock new words, in case you don’t like your initial selection of three. All of these are optional, of course, and you can play the game entirely without any of these additional boosts – refreshing, since these are largely acquired through in-app purchases. In addition to the boosts, there are badges that can be earned by working on particular words within a specific theme. So, the Halloween badge is unlocked by working with words like ‘ghost’, ‘candy’, ‘cobweb’, etc.[singlepic id=9791 w=320 h=240 float=right]

The last thing I should mention is the gameplay experience itself. Right now there’s a few bugs to work out of the iOS version of WordTag Free – the most notable one I found was that quitting out of the game while in the middle of typing a word resulted in the keyboard being present, and apparently un-removable, when I switched back to the game. While most of the time the game seems to perform quite fine, it does have the feeling of being a little rough around the edges. Hopefully these problems will be fixed shortly.

If you enjoy the challenge of creative description, WordTag Free is worth checking out – I can’t think of any other title in the App store that has quite this approach to a vocabulary based game, and it seems to have a lot of potential. You can grab it – for free of course – right in the App store right now.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.


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