ROMper ROOM: Game tests puzzler’s word mettle

The roots of Scrabble entwine with an ancient Chinese solitaire challenge to offer frenetic spelling aerobics in Word Jong Party (Destineer, Wii $29.99).

This addictive virtual board game tests players’ vocabularies as lettered tiles are used to form words and garner the highest point totals to win. Through an excellent set of variations, up to four players can take part in the casual gaming epic.

The single player’s quest to become a Word Jong master begins by selecting an avatar and tackling either a series of daily puzzles or the daunting Battle Quest. In either case, a cascading set of tiles piles up onto one another on top of a background with a select set open for use.

Tiles pulled from the board build words of up to nine letters (use the Wiimote to snatch and place them on a rack), and hidden tiles are then uncovered to continue the process.

As in Scrabble, letter tiles are worth different point totals (“X” and “Qu” the highest), and the addition of multipliers, wild tiles and long-word bonuses in some of the games quickly builds scores.

Where a daily puzzle simply requires a player to top the score of another character (anthropomorphic animals act as opponents), players in the Battle Quest attempt to be more creative.

Battle Quest requires figuratively climbing a mountain by beating 10 challenges in bronze, silver and gold levels. Each challenge is slightly different and might involve teaming up with another character, beating a specific point total or winning by a certain amount of points.

Where the game really delivers is through its multiplayer options. Specifically, up to four players can take turns in a battle on one set of tiles or simultaneously play their own boards.

Their goals in the later “party” modes are to either reach a predetermined point total first or create a word per round with the highest combined point total, winning after a set number of rounds.

Adding to the battles is the ability to shake the Wiimote to drop more tiles on a board or use attacks, such as flipping an opponent’s letters to reverse them or turning off the lights on a board (the unlucky player then uses his controller as a flashlight to see letters).

Throughout the action, the mild-to-the-ears, distinctly Oriental musical track never distracts.

Learning time: The pressure of spelling words is an eye-opening and often-educational experience. With no penalties given for guessing at words, the game can be quite a learning avenue for a youngster as he stumbles upon new combinations of letters and searches out meanings through an online dictionary away from the game.

Proper names and profanity aren’t allowed, and the obscure word creations from the computer-controlled opponents, such as ajuga, loquat, toric, fugus and ooh, will have veteran crossword puzzlers shaking their fists.

At game’s end, the word lists are available for review and a robust selection of statistics, such as total words created, average word length, top 10 words and most-used starting letter along with other achievements, should keep players wanting to keep going.

Age range: It won’t keep an 8-year-old riveted to the screen, but it’s an excellent family-style game that works best when parents or grandparents join in the fun.

Final advice: Word Jong Party builds upon its DS and PC brethren in delivering a fun multiplayer exercise and easy way for spellers to interactively flex their noggins.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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