If I were to make a list of developers I’m keen to keep a close eye on, Spry Fox would be on it. Not only are they the team behind 2011’s smash hit Triple Town, but they’ve brought us other great games too; Panda Poet, Leap Day, and Road Not Taken to name just a few.

Their next game is now live on Google Play in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and if you’re a word game fan, you’ll be pleased to know that it feels more than a little like Panda Poet Revisited.

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In Panda Poet, two players would square off against each other and try to make words from the letters available on the board. Each completed letter would become a panda, and when enough pandas were touching to form a larger square/rectangle, they’d merge into a much bigger panda (worth more points).

Alphabear uses the idea of Panda Poet as a starting point, but the end result is something much different: a single-player experience with a free-to-play spin, plenty of bears to collect, and a crazy amount of polish.

Different stages will present different challenges (we’ve been asked to clear the board to reach a high score, as well as to make as high a score as we can in 2 minutes), but the mechanics remain the same throughout. You’ll use the letters to make words, and in the corner of each letter is a number. The end result is something that looks like a Scrabble tile, but with a much different effect. Every turn you take, that number will tick down by one. When it reaches zero, that letter becomes a rock, preventing you from growing your bears beyond its bounds.

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As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock a wild variety of bears (there are 67 at the time of this writing). The different bears you’ll collect offer more than just a cute art swap. Each comes with it’s own special score boost, and you’ll get to choose which bears you’ll take into battle with you. The Abe Lincoln lookalike “Fore Bear” will give you extra points for four-letter words, while “Easy Bear” gives bonuses for using the letters E, A, S and Y.

These bears are also where the free-to-play element comes in. Each has their own “rest” timer, so once you’ve used them, you’ll be waiting before you can use them again (or you can spend coins to get them back into the game). You’ll also earn them gachapon-style (think Crossy Road), so duplicates can sometimes happen. That’s actually a good thing in Alphabear, as getting a double will give that bear a level boost, improving their associated bonus.

After spending an evening with Alphabear, it’s not hard to see how this could quickly become my new favorite word game. The Google Play description declares that “this game is still very much considered beta,” but if it launched in this state, it would be hard to find fault with it.

A recent tweet suggests that we should see Alphabear worldwide “soonish.” There’s been no announcement yet regarding any plans to launch on iOS, but considering the game has been developed in Unity, we’ll remain cautiously optimistic.