If you’ve ever tried to feed a fussy toddler, you know that nothing works better than bribes and distractions. That’s the premise of Fussy Freddy, an entertaining word game that has you dishing up letters and solving riddles in a bowl of alphabet soup.

Word Krispies
has done the “word game in a food bowl” theme before, but Fussy Freddy adds a bunch of new twists that make it fun for experienced wordies and newbies alike.

Fussy Freddy only wants to eat mushy baby food. His mother Betty has tried all the usual goodies, like eggs, spaghetti, and hotdogs, but nothing else will do. With preschool still four months away, Betty needs help! Luckily, Freddy’s Grandma has a plan, and suggests alphabet soup… and we have a winner. The only catch is that Freddy insists on spelling words with his food before he eats it. Well, they don’t call him “fussy” for nothing. In Fussy Freddy, your job is to help fill Freddy’s tummy by meeting his demands, or else he’ll throw a major fit. Hmmm… I’d say somebody needs a time out corner.

You start on the first of September, and work your way through the days on the calendar. Most of the rounds in Fussy Freddy are untimed, so there’s no rush. The basic means of game play has you making words out of the letters in Freddy’s soup bowl. When you’re finished making words, select “eat” to enter them (and expand the tummy meter). Words can be horizontal or vertical. You can use the left mouse button to move individual letters, and the right mouse button to move whole words and clusters of letters around the bowl. Unlike Scrabble, words can be placed next to each other without needing to be connected by other words.

Freddy doesn’t just want any old words. He has very specific preferences, which vary by the day. The objectives for the round are shown at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes, Freddy wants you to find words which solve a riddle, or words which begin and/or end with certain letters. Sometimes he wants words of a certain length, or synonyms, or antonyms. Most commonly, all he wants is a high scoring bowl.

Scores are tallied by looking at several features. Each letter has it’s own score value, much like in Scrabble. Words that are 5 letters long give you a bonus, with larger words resulting in even bigger bonuses. Linking words also boosts your score – links are formed when two words are connected by a common letter. Lastly, you earn a bonus when you manage to use most or all of the letters in your bowl. You can check a bowl’s score at any time by hovering over the “eat” button. If you do really well, you can earn a “superstar” score. For more points, there are also special optional riddles to solve at the beginning of each round, indicated by a question mark.

If you’ve made Freddy angry and lost a round by failing to meet the objectives as he asked, you are always given the chance to replay, which really takes the pressure off. After you’ve beaten a round, Freddy gives you an arbitrary famous quote or fact. These are actually fun to read, and a cute addition to the game. There are also short story elements peppered here and there, but nothing too long or deep.

There are also special power-ups you can buy in advance, to use when you’re really stuck. These include options like adding your choice of vowel or consonant to any bowl, replacing unwanted tiles, or causing a letter’s value to triple.

As you play through the days, there are lots of special games included, which have their own objectives. Unlike most regular rounds, lots of these are timed. In “Shopping Sally,” you need to find words off of a shopping list where many letters are left blank. “Racer Rick” rounds have you trying to beat the clock and come up with as many short words as possible using the letters in a particular phrase.

In “Betty’s Crossword” rounds, you are asked to fill in a simple timed crossword puzzle. You can technically use your mouse for this, but it can be a major problem to select letters, as they are all overlapping. It’s easier to just use your keyboard, or else use the mouse wheel if you have one. “Jumbo James” rounds have you trying figure out a specific word based off of hints you are given. “Anagram Sam” has you working with anagrams, and “Quoteable Qunicy” sends you looking for quotes. Most of these special rounds are easy to beat, but a couple are tough.

The music is a lot of fun, with a nostaligic feel, and the art is cute. The game runs very smoothly, and is really a pleasure to play, with generally good instructions. The constant variety of objectives means very little chance to get bored. It can be very addicting, and is set up seemlessly so that a player can play for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours at a time without losing his/her place. The length is also excellent, with hours and hours of game play (around a dozen, by my count).

Some of the English is a bit awkward, though grammatically correct with a few minor exceptions. As is the case with most word games, some puzzles require a bit of knowledge about Western culture. For example, a foreigner may get stumped on the riddles where the solution is the name of a fairy tale or cartoon character, like Cinderella, Popeye, or Paul Bunyan.

On occasion, you may run into a puzzle where technically correct answers are not accepted. For example, one round wanted “items that you’d eat for breakfast.” Words I tried which were not accepted included granola, grapes, oranges, eggs, and pancakes…all seem like valid breakfast choices to me. The instructions say to “only turn in one non-plural word at a time,” but this doen’t seem to work. Still, this was just one poor round in a sea of many good ones.

If you love word games, Fussy Freddy is one to check out. Even if you’re generally neutral about word games and puzzles, Fussy Freddy should entertain you with accessible game play and quirky humor. Because it’s not overly difficult to beat, it’s a good choice for a family word game, as stronger players can still find plenty of ways to challenge themselves (such as by aiming for higher scores). It’s a yummy alternative to the usual Scrabble and Boggle.