Review: Classic Word Games (Nintendo DS)

cwgcoverClassic Word Games
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Education
Release Date: 06/23/2009

If you’re taking a look at the title of this game and the box art and trying to figure out how this is an educational game, let me end the suspense for you. While the game does feature some word games, the whole idea of this game is to increase your active vocabulary through recognition and repetition. It is not, as its name would imply, a collection of word games for you to play at your leisure.

Misleading name aside, is this bargain priced game any good at what its supposed to do?

Modes

From the outset, you’ll have three modes of play to chose from. Quick Play will pit you in a random game and give you a score at the end. Profile will send you to the game’s main mode, where you complete various challenges in order to earn stars which are used to unlock more games and increase your rank. Finally, there is a multiplayer mode which allows you to use single card wireless play in order to play a handful of head to head word games or just send a demo to another DS.

Profile is where you’ll spend almost all of your time with the game. It starts out by giving you a word association test. Basically, you’re looking for synonyms. Then you’re given a few tests to determine how quickly you can spot specific letters under various parameters. However, most of these amount to, “find the vowel in the orange box.” The information gathered from these tests is used to determine where you are at in terms of vocabulary. The game doesn’t outright tell you that score, but it will be used to determine what kinds of words you’ll be seeing at the outset.

There are a few games used specifically to gain stars. Several of these simply ask you to pick out synonyms or antonyms in the fastest time possible, while others ask you to fill in words to complete famous quotes or use an appropriate idiom to complete a sentence. There are also games such as Word Fall, which require you to figure out what the mystery word is, based on a hint, and then accomplish a task based on that. Word Fall has you pick out the letters that spell the word out from wrong letters as they fall from the top of the screen. Trace has you drawing lines from one correct letter to the next.

When you’ve reached 100 stars during any session by playing these games, the game suggests you end the session there. Also, every time you reach 100, you’ll be able to access the game Cipher. Cipher merely gives you a phrase with several letters missing. You’ll be able to take guesses at what those letters are or simply solve the puzzle outright. Succeeding unlocks you a new game or theme to play around with. Failing requires you to wait until next time to guess.

When you’re not using these training games, you will have access to a few actual classic word games. These are crosswords, word finds, and hangman. Completing these will award you no stars, but it does keep track of your best scores.

All in all, the modes of this game are an utter disappointment. Given the name of the game, you’d expect a lot more than word association games. The crosswords are small, Hangman is merciless (which I’ll get to later), and the whole thing boils down to how good you are at picking up on synonyms and antonyms. It isn’t particularly fun or exciting.

Graphics

As far as I’m concerned, this is the best part of the game. Since you’re mostly dealing with words, the game doesn’t pack much detail into the graphics. Instead, it keeps is simple.

cwg1The game borrows a fifty’s game show aesthetic that works really well. There are a few characters that serve to introduce you to the game’s mechanics,a and they are simple, clean, and neat looking. Everything is in 2D, and manages to look nice, if not spectacular.

You’re not going to have to worry about effects, lighting, or camera control in this game. Everything is in a simple 2D, almost menu-like presentation that, while doesn’t wow the player, fits the game quite well.

All in all, its pleasant to look at, even if it won’t stir the artist in you.

Audio

During game selection or menus, the game uses elevator music for inspiration. Its light and won’t offend anyone. Of course, no one is going to get into it in the slightest either. Its so unremarkable that you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference when its on or off.

During actual word games, there isn’t any music at all. Its just a few sound effects. One for a right answer. One for a wrong answer. You get the idea. Apart from that, the only thing you’ll hear is the occasional mumble like speech from one of the game’s three hosts.

There really isn’t anything to talk about when it comes to audio for this game.

Gameplay

The game is controlled entirely by the touch screen. Basically, all you have to do is figure out the answer and tap it. That’s the whole game. Sure, there are many different ways to tap things, but that’s all it amounts too.

The main game you’re going to be playing merely gives you three words and asks you to find the correct word that is a synonym for those words. Another game mixes it up by occasionally asking you to find antonyms as well. No matter how you put it, you’ll just be trying to find the right answer and tapping it as fast as possible.

cwg2The most fun games are the ones that take elements from all of the learning games and mix them up. This is mostly just race and ladder mode. You’ll be given questions that cover everything you should have learned. At least here you have to pay attention to what you’re doing.

Word Fall is a game that I absolutely hate. You’ll be given a clue and a word that is missing most of the letters. You’ll have to pick the correct letters out from a bunch that are rapidly descending on the touch screen. The thing is time based, so you need to get correct letters to increase your time. Getting a wrong answer takes a huge chunk out of your time. Regardless of whether you know the answer or not, this mode sucks. If you know the answer, you can’t simply spell it and get it over with. You have to sit there and wait for the letter to show up. If you don’t know the answer, you’ll be pecking at letters and random and getting it wrong almost every time. You’ll also need to know how to spell it.

For games like crossword, hangman, and a few other of the casual games, you’ll have to write words in with the stylus. I’m happy to report that the letter recognition is pretty darn good. The only letter I ever had any problems with is “U”. Too often, the game would take it as a “V”, but that is understandable as I write pretty sloppy. You never have to write numbers, so all you’ll have to worry about is words It works way better than expected.

I promised I’d delve into Hangman a bit more. This is the worst rendition of the game I’ve ever seen. You’re given a vague hint and the answer is only one word long. The words are usually surprisingly short and you’ve only got five misses before your hung. The worst part is that it draws the platform and not the noose or the person being hung. That’s never the way I played as a kid. There’s no ability to change how many guesses you get or switch to phrases instead of single words. Worse, if you’re playing with someone else, neither of you can chose the word. You’d be better off putting the DS down and playing with a pen and paper. Its a lot more fun.

The last thing to mention is here is whether or not this game can actually help improve your vocabulary or “active words” as it calls it. While you’ll see plenty of words you don’t know in the game, you’ll also see a ton you do. Even if you’ve seen a word ten times and get the associated answer right as fast as possible every time, the game still likes to repeat it over and over again. There are only ten rounds in each game, and I was seeing multiple repeated questions in back to back games even from the outset of the game. Granted, repetition is the best way to learn new words, but this was silly. The game does feature a glossary of seen words, which is nice. However, unless you’re going to be playing this game every day, its no more helpful than word of the day toilet paper. It’s also less fun.

Basically, the game encourages you to use big words that sound silly in context when you could use a simpler word instead. It reminds me of the people who use a thesaurus on every other word in an essay they’ve written. Rather than make you sound smarter, they make you sound like an ass.

Replayability

The game encourages you to play it only in small sessions once a day. If you do this, the game can last a while in terms of days simply because there is stuff to unlock and it takes a little while. Granted, each session will last you about five minutes, so if you think the game is helping your vocabulary, you could probably find five minutes each day to give to it.

If you wanted this game for the crosswords or word finds, then you should be looking elsewhere. While its true that someone with a DSi will be able to download extra puzzles, there are better crosswords games on the DS. Word Finds are also no fun because they only give you about ten words to find per puzzle. I personally get a lot more mileage out of one of the books you can grab from any grocery store that are only a buck.

cwg3Once you’ve unlocked everything, the game offers you no rewards for continuing to play it. Your rank will go up, but this is unexciting because its nothing more than a new title that you’ll only see at the end of each session.

The multiplayer games might have added some replay value if they weren’t all better served using pen and paper. If you’re trying to save trees or don’t have any pens nearby, perhaps this might come in handy. I also do appreciate that the multiplayer only requires one DS cart and most of the games can even be played by passing the DS back and forth. If nothing else, you’ll only need one copy of this game to get the most of it for an entire family, which is nice.

Balance

I’m just going to say it. You can cheat this game.

The easiest game to score perfect or near perfect on every time is the match game. If you chose, you can simply play this over and over again to earn stars, unlock games, and even go up ranks. The game will not stop you from repeating games, nor will it even make a comment. Since you are free to play whatever game you wish, you can safely avoid 90% of the game and it will still reward you!

Also, its hard to think too highly of this game because it will repeat words you clearly have down pat. Then, you’ll still gets points for them. I’ve done better on certain parts of the game simply because I knew all of the answers ahead of time. The game just doesn’t give you enough variety.

I know you can break a lot of games, but none make it so easy.

Originality

Ever since Brain Age started selling millions upon millions, every publisher wants to put out the next big education game. Problem is, none of them are nearly as fun as Nintendo’s juggernaut. They seem to think that all it takes is a bunch of quick mini games and stylus control in order to make something good. That just isn’t the case.

I can’t give a high score here to such an obvious clone. Everything the game has to offer can be found on better games that are the same price if not cheaper by now. The best thing you can say is that it is the first educational game that I know of that uses DSi features, even if it is just to add more crosswords.

Addictiveness

The game knows that it isn’t too fun. That’s why it suggests you play only one session per day. Those sessions will never last more that ten minutes and often will ranged somewhere from five to six depending on your reading comprehension level and speed.

cwg4If you play the game at any point for an hour, which I have, you’ll see how little it truly has to offer. Marathon sessions are out of the question simply because you’d finish everything the game has in store within a few hours. None of the games are fun enough to keep you coming back for more.

When the nice lady suggests you stop playing, you’re better off listening to her.

Appeal Factor

Simply because of the misleading title and low cost, this game will sell more copies than it perhaps should.

As I’ve said before, there are better educational games that offer far more content. If you’re looking for a good mini game collection, go grab Clubhouse Games or Warioware.

The only people who are going to buy this knowing what it is will be parents trying to improve the vocabulary of their children. My advice is to get them to start reading books.

Miscellaneous

I can’t forgive this game for calling itself Classic Word Games when it really should be called “My Vocabulary Coach” or something similar. When I heard of the game, I thought it was a collection of word games that you could play at your leisure. So did everyone else I showed the game too or even talked about. It’s just a huge disappointment.

Would it have killed the dev team to add a few customization options? Not being able to chose words for hangman and/or being stuck with such small word finds just doesn’t add up to much fun. A few simple options would have greatly increased my opinion of the game.

I can’t escape the feeling that this is nothing more than a word of the day toilet paper game or something akin to a thesaurus feature on a word processor. Rather than make the person using the game better and using the English language, it makes them sound silly. We’ve all seen people try to act smarter then they are by using big words that they don’t really understand.

Those people will love this game.

The Scores

Modes: Poor
Graphics: Good
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
Miscellaneous: Pretty Poor
Final Score: Pretty Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjackClassic Word Games may be at a bargain price, but it doesn’t even manage to be worth that. Sure, the graphics are nifty and the mechanics are sound, but the game isn’t any fun, and doesn’t educate in a way that is truly constructive. The best way to increase your vocabulary is by reading, writing, and conversing. This game merely tries to replace your existing vernacular with fancier sounding words. Nobody likes that guy.

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