We’ve got to applaud developer Republic of Fun’s latest effort Scrabble Journey: It cleverly takes the classic tabletop favorite and attempts to marry it with original adventure game elements. Unfortunately, although the title does offer some challenge and occasional standout moments, like the company’s other recent effort Merv Griffin’s Crosswords, a lackluster presentation and largely forgettable play bar the outing from greatness.
Story-wise, it’s hard to take issue with the chosen theme: In hopes of joining the Society of Puzzle Adventurers, you’re tasked with attempting to travel the world in under 80 days and return to London before time runs out. Accompanying you on the quest is valet Hodges, a bowler hat- and muttonchop sideburn-sporting major domo who offers encouragement and hints throughout the tale during both actual play and dialogue-heavy plot interludes starring a mix of hand-drawn characters.
The only thing he can’t do? Explain why the visuals (including menus, boards and the supporting cast) appear to have been composed by several different individuals then haphazardly strung together. This goes double for featured personalities, with all adopting a different graphical aesthetic ranging from professional to amateur-level craftsmanship.
As for actual play, if you’ve ever spent time in front of the original board game from which the outing draws inspiration, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Set to unobtrusive, but innocuous background tunes, each stage essentially consists of a low-resolution 3D board divided into a grid of empty spaces, some of which bestow score-boosting bonuses, e.g. double word valuations or triple letter multipliers.
At any time, you’ll be in possession of seven random tiles, each bearing an individual letter, which you must use to form words by placing them in sequence on the grid. The trick here – at least in Quest Mode, the real heart of the outing – is simply to get from one side of each playfield (generally consisting of a bunch of tree-like objects, garishly-colored squares and inanimate buildings) to the other by composing chains of words connected by one or more letters.
Let’s say you spelled “PIES” horizontally. If you had the right letters, you could then travel downward by using the existing I in the word to spell “IF” and S to make “SHOE.” Alternately, you could gain bonus points by adding an S to the beginning so the phrase became “SPIES” instead. Whatever the case, the trick is simply moving forward at a constant pace by building additional terms that run left to right or vertically. Bear in mind, though: Any letters that touch others must form coherent words as well, or the move can’t be made.
Thankfully, you can always shuffle letters to see if it aids your cognitive process; choose a number of tiles to exchange for an equal number of random picks; or ask Hodges for a hint. This latter option helps reveal the depth of the title’s built-in dictionary, especially when he suggests that you compose oh-so-frequently used words like “domic,” “vinca” and “qis.” (Of course, why didn’t we think of that?)
Realistically, the setup makes for some interesting moments, since each level’s carefully designed with multiple chokepoints and passages running through it, including some paths that take serious skill to maneuver and the odd optionally collectible golden tile- or trophy-containing treasure chest. A combo multiplier also adds up as you play bigger, more complex words, helping make you feel like a mental giant for the effort. What’s more, smartly, players can take their time during the adventure, with the designers never coming down harshly on those who need a helping hand. But because of the lackadaisical mood, haphazard collection of aesthetic elements and general lack of wildcard moments or major mid-game twists, you never feel especially moved by or invested in the action either.
Quick play options, support for multiple user profiles, non-linear progression, multiple backdrops from Moscow to Calcutta and a mostly workable basic game mechanic make the saga worth considering at bare minimum. Regardless, as evidenced by the user-selectable Performance Boost menu option which “will result in some visual oddities” but make “[the game] perform significantly better,” there’s still quite a few rough edges to the experience that could’ve used some ironing out.