Although an Internet-only diversion (and Pogo.com exclusive at that), fans of popular TV game shows can’t help but be drawn to Word Riot Deluxe. Despite being a strictly multiplayer endeavor – and one that’s built around a fairly limited rule set, no less – there’s much to like about the skillfully-presented title, which takes the form of a virtual primetime broadcast.
Even if, that is, it isn’t always for the impatient. And, of course, diehard fans of the English language, who’ll find the outing won’t improve your vocabulary so much as text messaging skills and ability to understand Internet parlance, or "leet" speak, as it’s known to the online generation.
Play itself is engagingly simple. After picking a Mini avatar, or virtual representation of oneself whom you can outfit with collectible gear, badges and ranks through both ongoing competition and continued use of Pogo.com’s services, it’s time to dive right in. Starting with a minimum of six players, you’ll be assigned to one of two teams: Red or blue.
A "Cluegiver" is then randomly chosen before each round, who must type in a hint consisting of any eight to twelve characters that will help aid teammates in guessing a secret word. Your partners in crime will afterwards be presented with the clue, and – given a limited amount of time – be asked to enter their best guess at said term. Afterwards, points are awarded for each correct response, and the team with the most points (or the one that’s fastest to reach a preset point total) at the end of several rounds wins the match. And really, that’s about all there is to it.
Of course, a few caveats. For one, the combinations of clue-providing characters you can use are almost infinite – to hint at the word "fixture," you might use something as simple as "lighting" or complex as "bathFIX." (Which, naturally, can lead to a great deal of confusion and angst when working with poor Cluegivers under tight time constraints, although that’s just part of the fun…)
Chat windows are constantly open too, so you can quickly fire off missives to other players for help, assuming you can type fast, or just tease them for being slow on the draw. Three core play modes (Classic, Rally and Expert) also mix things up slightly, changing the number of total allotted rounds; adjusting point totals; grouping secret words into categories; adding extra hint options; and introducing challenges like speed rounds or formats that limit you to clues that rhyme with the secret word or reference it’s exact opposite.
On a positive note, since you’re playing with others, every game’s a completely unique experience unto itself. Conversely, there are only so many variations on such a simple core theme you’ll be able to stomach on a long-term basis. Likewise, much as dictionary features help potential Cluegivers, auto spell-check options prove a boon and it’s nice to be able to change your answer on the fly if incorrectly inputted, a few design quirks balance out these upsides. For example: A too-particular word parser (which won’t accept "dialogue" in place of "dialog," for instance) and star rating system through which you can provide Cluegiver feedback that punishes those who are inexperienced or slower on the draw by causing them to be selected as hint providers less often.
Thankfully, you can always voluntarily opt out of the Cluegiver role, or redeem yourself over time. And, of course, various playrooms – grouped by age, theme and player interest – also help you find like-minded souls to compete against. But any desktop amusement whose tutorial has to remind players "it’s just a game," to be supportive of new recruits and not use the rating system to penalize others should be taken with a grain of salt.
Even so, we’re quite fond of Word Riot, and it comes recommended, provided you play in short spurts. Certainly, there’s a lot of waiting involved – waiting for clues, waiting for everyone to input answers, waiting to join rounds, etc. – but don’t sweat it. While not the kind of game well suited to marathon outings, it’s a more than pleasing way to pass time on idle evenings, or connect and compete with friends and family across the nation.