Review: Margot’s Word Brain (Nintendo DS)

Name: Margot’s Word Brain
Developer: Slam Games
Publisher: Zoo Games
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 9/30/2008

For many years now, there has been a debate as to what actually constitutes a “video game.” Does it have to be a game that’s played on a console? Does it have to be something with real graphics and music? Or can a random Flash game or even an Orbitz ad be considered a “video game?” Most would argue that the word games that are available on sites like Yahoo! aren’t really video games. Maybe those people are right. After all, we’ve never seen them on a console or anything.

Until now.

Margot’s Word Brain is an attempt to bring the mindless joy of word games to the Nintendo DS. The game is actually a collection of six popular word games that have been given the DS treatment (Two screens and lots of touch screen usage). While this might sound pretty cool, this is also probably the first time you’ve ever been asked to pay for games like these. So, then, is Margot’s Word Brain worth the money?

In a word, no.

Let me say that this game wasn’t an awful idea. Let’s face it, we all love playing these stupid word games. Find a word out of a bunch of letters? Sign me up! Do a crossword puzzle with only a mouse? Sure! But somewhere on the journey between your PC and your DS, something pretty crucial got lost. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re actually playing a game instead of screwing around online. Maybe it’s because you’re stuck paying for something you once got for free. Maybe. But the truth is, these games don’t translate well to the DS. It’s nobody’s fault; that’s just the way it is.

Margot’s Word Brain features seven different game modes. The first, Word Brain, is a battery of each of the other six game modes. You just play the six mini-games one after another and end up with a score at the end of it. But you also have the option to play the other six games individually. What are those games, you ask? Here we go…

Word Link: In this game, your goal is to find words out of a bunch of letters. When you find a word, the letters that formed the word disappear, with new letters appearing in their place. This game is way too short to really get into; the online versions you’ve played of this game give you much more time. And unlike the online games, you’re just competing against yourself to find as many random words as possible, so there’s no reward for “winning”, or even motivation to find as many words as possible.

Word Mine: You are given a group of six letters. From this group, you must form as many words as possible in the alloted time. The game tells you how many words can be formed from the letters and breaks it down by the number of letters. However, the game doesn’t keep a tally for you or even sort the words you’ve found out by the number of letters, meaning you have to keep track of what you’ve already found in addition to finding more words.

Hyper Txt: Remember the days before QWERTY keypads and predictive text? Well, your ability to text organically is put to the test in this one. The game gives you a word, and you have to type it out on a numeric kepyad. It’s as simple as that. As you progress, the words become longer and disappear quicker, forcing you to remember the word’s spelling as you type it out. This is one of those games that sounds like it should be fun, but is ultimately sort of annoying. Why would you want to text random words in a game when you can text random words to your friends and drive them crazy?

Word Run: Of all the games on this cartridge, Word Run is probably the most fun. This game plays almost like a fast-paced game of Scrabble. Your opponent, Margot, starts out with a six-letter word and you have to find a word that fits in with the word she wrote. Then it’s her turn to do the same. When you stump her, you get extra points. This all sounds better than it plays, though. You have to think of a word, then mark its starting and ending points, then enter the word, and you’d better hope it’s not spelled wrong or else you’ve got to start all over again. Obviously, all of this takes time, something you don’t have a lot of.

Word Safe: The opposite of Word Run in terms of quality, Word Safe is the most inane game found in Margot’s Word Brain. Basically, it’s like Word Link in that you have to find words out of a collection of letters, only there’s a little twist. In Word Safe, there are two circles of letters that surround one solitary letter, and you have the ability to spin the circles around to get the letters to match up the way you want. This is one of those games that will drive you crazy because the touch sensitivity is totally out of whack; half the time, spinning the circles doesn’t work and you just end up selecting letters you don’t want. It’s not a bad idea for a game, but it’s executed horribly.

Word Search: If you’re one of those people who feasts on those easy word puzzle games you find at supermarkets, this is the game for you. You’re given a set of three six-letter words, and your goal is to find them in a word search as quickly as possible. Instead of circling the word, you just touch the first and last letter of the word. Easy, right? Wrong. You have twenty seconds to find these three words, which is not nearly as much time as it seems like. Worse, once you start the game, the list of words disappears and you can’t access it again. This is a game that should have been a million times better, but ultimately isn’t.

A mixed bag, to say the least.

But here’s the thing about Margot’s Word Brain. Even if all these mini-games were totally awesome, the actual game itself wouldn’t be fun to play. Most of these games are extremely short and limited. Not only are your confined to a six-by-six letterboard, but the individual games are over before you even get a chance to really get into them. It’s no fun having to start over again just when you’re starting to get the hang of what you’re doing. In addition, correcting mistakes is very problematic; you either end up accidentally resetting your entire board or just not getting the stylus to register. So you have a game that pretty much restricts you from playing it to its potential. And since there are literally zero options in terms of difficulty, time length, or anything else, there’s only so much you can do with this game. But this isn’t even the game’s biggest problem.

Instead, this is the game’s biggest problem. The interface is just a total mess. Things are laid out in the least user-friendly manner possible. For example, you know how in most games, you create a user profile and that profile is what’s used to identify you throughout the game? Well, that doesn’t happen in Margot’s Word Brain. Instead, you have to enter your name every single time you end up with a high score. And since every other score on the list is zero, that’s a lot of entering your name. This sort of thing gets old rather quickly. Also, the game features tutorials, which is nice; however, once you start one, you can’t skip past it. And that’s not a good thing. Why? For one, you already know how to play pretty much all of these games. Secondly, each tutorial is accompanied by a long spiel about the game, another thing that gets annoying rather quickly. Third, and worst of all, the screen scrolls the same exact text you’re hearing, only a lot slower. So that means you’re reading everything you’ve already heard, only it takes like five minutes to read what was just spoken in thirty seconds. It’s also worth noting that this text is full of grammar and punctuation errors, which is sort of ironic for a word game.

Margot’s Word Brain is nothing to write home about graphically. To be honest, it’d look bad even on the Game Boy Advance. But at least there’s nothing offensive. The sound, though, is particularly grating. The sound of the clock ticking EVERY SECOND while you’re playing the word games will tempt you to throw your DS against the wall. The game features exactly one song, with wonderful lyrics like, “Margot’s Word Brain!” and, “Game Over… YEAH!”… and that’s it. And let’s not forget about Margot herself, who really brings nothing to the table aside from saying things like, “Please wait while I save your game.” It’s her “word brain”, but the game could just as well have been hosted by a chimpanzee. Maybe that could have saved this one. But probably not.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Bad
Graphics: Dreadful
Sound: Worthless
Control/Gameplay: Dreadful
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Bad
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: Dreadful Game

Short Attention Span Summary
You might think it’d be pretty cool to have a collection of your favorite online word games on a handheld system. You’d be wrong. Margot’s Word Brain is not only devoid of enjoyable content, but makes the gameplaying experience absolutely excruciating. With a lot more polish, this might be a decent game. But as it is, without any sort of online leaderboards or anything, you’re just playing crummy word games against yourself. And that’s no fun at all.

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