Word games are serious business in the casual space. Games like Text Twist and its popular Facebook counterpart Word Twist have hundreds of thousands of players. Remember the big brouhaha when Scrabulous was being taken away? People are passionate about their word games. So what makes Word Whomp Underground so different from the others? Believe it or not, its story.
All credit to the developers for coming up with a believable storyline. The gophers who live beneath the surface are sick and tired of humans paving over their land, destroying their habitats and forcing them underground. So, they developed a plan to fight back, called Operation Drill Fur Freedom, and they’re coming for us one hole at a time. They use their Gopher Drill to travel from one area to the next. The problem, though, is they need your help to keep their drill moving ever forward through the game’s 32 locales.
The gophers have to dig through terrain to find items to power their drill. Digging is accomplished by – you guessed it – spelling words three letters or longer from the six letters shown at the beginning of each round. The digging acts like a progress meter. You have to spell a minimum number of words before the timer runs out. Reach a minimum standard to win, and you can continue to collect points, Pogo Tokens and acorns (more on these later).
To make life easier for you, there are specific golden words that, if found, add extra time to your timer. Additionally, after meeting the minimum for the level, you can keep digging to claim a blue hint crystal, which highlights some blank letters in words you have not yet found. Finally, there is a hint button that will manually uncover a letter in a word you haven’t found, but at a cost of ten seconds on the timer.
When you first play Word Whomp Underground, you may notice the graphics look chunky and ugly. Don’t fret: the game looks very slick in windowed mode. There’s a lot of detail here; the gopher on the title screen follows your cursor around, and even gets a look of disgust and shakes his head if you highlight “quit.” The music, while repetitive, is very high quality, and somehow, never gets annoying – even after extended play sessions.
Gameplay is reminiscent of the previously-mentioned Text Twist, spelling words from letters. You can mix them up for a fresh perspective if needed. The longer the word, the more points you earn. If you can spell a word that uses all six letters, you can earn an acorn, which helps power the gophers’ technology. (You may even get lucky and receive a super-bonus acorn.) If you can earn ten acorns, you get to play a bonus game where the acorns can be converted to big points. Every so often, the Gophermobile comes along, to try to steal extra acorns for the “glory of the colony” (I promise, I’m not making this up). If you can spell golden words quickly, you can propel the Gophermobile along its wire without it exploding, sometimes allowing you to earn 50% more acorns for the bonus rounds.
Once you’ve uncovered gears of different sizes and colors, (each of which has a letter on it) you can go to the Super Drill Puzzle, where spelling words with the right drill gears opens up the next area. Unfortunately, different gears are found in different locations, so you’ll be travelling between the different areas, trying to find the right gear to open up the next area. Thankfully, there are wild gears or items that can change the nature of the gears you have on hand.
Throughout the game, you earn Tokens. While the game isn’t explicit in explaining this, Tokens earned in-game can be redeemed at Pogo.com for contests in which you could win cash or various prizes, which is a nice way of hooking loyal players into the game.
This is a very good thing, as Word Whomp Underground has a lot of longevity to it. In order to progress though the story, you need to play four rounds for every gear you uncover. Even then, you may not get the gear you’re looking for. This ends up being the biggest frustration of Word Whomp Underground. I was hoping to get farther in the game in less time than I did, and with no real variation to the gameplay (though there are three skill levels to keep things challenging) it doesn’t lend itself well to marathon sessions.
Nonetheless, if you like your word games, you’ll find little to complain about with Word Whomp Underground. While not necessarily breaking new ground, the adorable characters, strategy for finding parts for the gophers and overall polish give Word Whomp Undergound an edge over its competitors. We may pave over their land, but we’ll never pave over… their freedom!