Review: KrissX (Microsoft Xbox 360)

KrissX
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Regolith Games Ltd.
Genre: Puzzle/Casual
Release Date: 01/27/2010

Last Wednesday, Konami sprung a new casual title on us, bringing KrissX to Xbox LIVE Arcade. Amid a couple of weeks that brought us heavy-hitting games such as Matt Hazard, Death by Cube, and Serious Sam, KrissX takes a step back and brings forth a more gentle and relaxing experience to the service for 800 Microsoft Points. Thankfully, the title comes in as a change of pace and is immediately one of the most accessible titles made available on LIVE Arcade so far in 2010. Those looking for a new spin on word puzzles will definitely find a fix here and, while the game will definitely not be for everyone, it is a well-produced game based on its technical merits even though it does admittedly fall short in a few areas.

First, we will address the title KrissX: Instead of pronouncing the game phonetically like it is some kind of breakfast cereal, the actual pronunciation of the title is “criss cross” (like the pattern, not the child rappers that wore their jeans backward and had their own SEGA CD “game”). In KrissX, players are tasked with unscrambling jumbled words arranged in a crossword-style fashion. Once the specific word is spelled correctly, it is locked in place and the player scores points and bonuses until the player clears all the words on a stage in order to progress. Surprisingly, a sliver of story has been inserted into the game, revolving around a wise owl named Wordsworth. Poor Wordsworth has fallen out of a tree and upon hitting his head, all of his knowledge became scrambled, resulting in the mixed-up words. It won’t win any awards and nothing is done with the story beyond that point, but it is definitely charming and explains why the presentation is arranged the way it is in KrissX.

As such, KrissX depends more on its modes to engross the player. Thankfully, there is a span of modes players can unlock by progressing through the main quest mode, where players tackle 150 stages of progressively difficult words, to gain access to a new time attack mode, a timeless free mode, and special puzzles based off themes such as featuring the names of U.S. states or world countries. While tackling all of these modes, players will also gain badges through their performance. Some of these badges merely proclaim a mode or feature has been unlocked, but others are based off the player’s ability to grab tokens, create chains and more. While the collection of badges does nothing more than net the player an achievement, everything comes together to give the game much more breadth than other casual word games.

Ultimately, though, the modes do nothing more than alter the time restraints placed on the player and, in some cases, the words involved, as nothing radically changes the root gameplay. Furthermore, the absence of any multiplayer or online interactions further damper the game as the ability to create and share puzzles of your own would have pushed the game’s replayability to near limitless levels. Fortunately, the title’s menu does sport a “Downloaded Puzzles” mode, so we’ll see what lengths Konami will go to keep this game swimming along. On the other hand, even though there is no multiplayer, there are leaderboards for each individual game mode, so it is possible to have a score rival. When you look at everything as a whole, if you don’t mind tackling the game on your own, KrissX should serve you just fine, however, don’t count on it to service a crowd.

KrissX wouldn’t be much of a casual title if it had complicated controls and, thankfully, the title’s controls are as simple as one would expect. The cursor used to highlight the alphabet tiles is operated with the d-pad or left analog stick and the tiles are selected and swapped by pressing the A button. The only deviation from this simplistic scheme stems from the tokens that fall from completed words. Players will need to watch what color the tokens appear as – blue, yellow, or red – and press the appropriate face button, X, Y, or B respectively, to pick them up for extra points time or power-ups. In between stages, players will have single-line puzzles tasking them to create words or place letters in alphabetical order for bonuses or switch tiles between multiple stacked words in order to break up the gameplay; however, these sections play out in exactly the same way.

The balance in the title is handled quite nicely, with early stages throwing seemingly insulting words at the player, but as he or she progresses, the number of words, the difficulty of the words, and the number of letters contained in each word increase and players can make use of a few techniques and power-ups to increase combos and score. Some of the power-ups increase a tip meter, where if a player gets stuck, they can press the right bumper to highlight two tiles that can be correctly flipped and this meter slowly increases every 30 seconds or so to ensure no player will be stuck on a puzzle forever. At certain durations, some words will light up in a red color and correctly forming this word while highlighted will switch one pair of letters to a correct position and spread a wildfire to its neighboring words. It is possible to clear an entire level through the use of wildfire, which is obviously good for racking up combo bonuses. After a handful of stage, non-movable asterisk tiles are placed in the puzzle, masking one of the correct letters to challenge players; however, clearing this word, much like the wildfire, will correctly flip two tiles in a neighboring word. Some of the tokens will even perform correct flips and freeze a random letter in its correct position, so there are some real-time elements to juggle while busting your brain and these elements are where KrissX really shines

Even though the game is simplistic in nature, KrissX still carries a very solid presentation. In fact, the title will likely remind people of a PopCap product, which most definitely isn’t an insult. The game’s colors are vibrant and each stage background environment pops out with fairly detailed storybook-style art. Starburst effects and the small wildfire blazes accent what would normally be plainfully dull alphabet tiles on the main playfield. Wordsworth also has a number of different poses based on the current situation to make him jump when a word is clear, appear to be deep in thought if players are idle and if players take too long to make a match, he actually falls asleep. On the other hand, aurally, the game doesn’t shine quite so much. Some of the sound pipes through without being in crystal clear clarity and while nothing is inherently bad with either the visuals or the audio, many aspects are repeated way too many times to be wholly engrossing. Aside from the repetition and a few minor knacks, though, KrissX is as appeasing to behold as it is play.

A player could potentially play KrissX indefinitely, so there is a good amount of replayability to be had with the title and if you’re one to get buried into puzzles, the title certainly has a bit of an addictive nature. As mentioned earlier, online interactions could have taken this further, but, still, once players clear all 150 quest levels, they can keep playing ad infinitum, which, aptly enough, the game refers to for every level after 150. Eventually, though, players will run into words and clues that repeat themselves and I even ran into this occurrence sooner than I thought I would before even clearing level 100. Also, the leaderboards in the quest mode are an accumulation of all play, so it is more of a measure of time sunk into the game as opposed to overall skill. Regardless, there is a lot to do and see in the title and it should deliver its full worth to most gamers, especially those looking into word puzzle games.

It will definitely take a few hours to tackle everything there is to see in KrissX and in good news for achievement buffs, the title is actually a fairly easy 200 points. Seeing as I am a journalist, though, maybe words just work into my favor. However, I don’t believe many of the words would be beyond the grasp of anyone looking for a decent casual game to play and by matching clues to words, hopefully players will be able to deposit a few new words into their word bank. One could probably argue a book of word puzzles might take them further than KrissX; however, the title provides the interactivity and feedback you can’t get from paper and power-ups and real-time aspects of the title add to the title more than one might initially think. As such, if you’re looking for a decent casual title or just want a break from the recent wave of action titles, KrissX just might be what you’re looking for.

The Scores
Story/Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: ENJOYABLE
Control/Gameplay: INCREDIBLE
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: ENJOYABLE
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
KrissX is definitely the most accessible and universally appealing Xbox LIVE Arcade title to release so far in 2010, giving players a more laid-back break from the recent wave of action titles that have dominated the year thus far. The title takes the simple concept of a word jumble and livens it up with power-ups, comboing, and other real-time involvement to spice up the gameplay. Still, nothing is overly complicated and the game is great to pick up and play for an hour or even just 15 minutes. KrissX has a lot of repetition going for it, however, and players that sink a handful of hours into it will start to see the words repeating, which greatly diminishes the challenge. When you add in the fact the presentation is very repetitive and there is no online interaction or multiplayer, there are a few kinks in the game’s shell. Fortunately, those kinks fail to prevent the title from being a good time for one player and those looking for a relaxing word puzzle title will find plenty to like in KrissX.