I don\’t know what to say. That was the first thought that popped into my head as I stared at the Gamepad in utter bewilderment as a bunch of random letters popped onto the small screen and a countdown began. I had no instructions, nor any idea what the game was even about. I just got through the main menu, pushed the top button (Arcade mode) and the \”Easy\” difficulty; suddenly I was greeted with a bunch of random letters and a timer counting down to some unknown fate.
Baffled, I tried moving some letters with my finger to the lower part of the screen – it seemed like the right thing to do. It was. But I couldn\’t seem to figure out what I was supposed to do after that; I presumed I was supposed to organize all the letters into a word, but I couldn\’t find one that incorporated all the letters. Within seconds the timer had run out – it told me I had a new high score (0) and it asked if I wanted to try again. I chose yes.
But every time I found and made a word, nothing happened, and the timer ran out. This repeated two or three more times, and I soon left arcade mode and headed to \”Challenge\” mode. I chose my difficulty and a category – \”food\” – only to find the same result. Once again, I couldn\’t find any words out of the letters, or at least not ones of food – that is, until I saw the word \”Cheese.\” And I got it right! It was incredible, a true moment of triumph! And then I went back to putting in wrong words, or not finding any at all.
After a few minutes of this I finally glanced up at the TV and saw a picture. I looked down at my Gamepad and realized I could spell out what that picture showed using the letters at the bottom. Suddenly it clicked: I am an idiot who didn\’t think to look at the television for a good twenty minutes of playing a video game, and that’s not a great sign when it is literally a game about being smart and knowing things – specifically knowing words, though having basic common sense generally helps with gaming, too. The (newly self-discovered) fact that I\’m somewhat dimwitted may have had something to do with why I didn\’t find the game particularly engrossing – that I just don\’t remember what a baboon looks like hurt my enjoyment of the game pretty consistently, as we\’ll get to in a moment.
But here’s the ultimate problem with the game, the problem that keeps it from being fun as what it could be. If you just can\’t figure out what a picture is, then you\’re going to lose every single time. Ultimately it makes the game repetitive and it discourages learning, something the game very well could have made enjoyable. Anyways, enough anecdotes – let’s break down UWordSmith.
Here’s how the game works on easy. On the TV screen is a picture, while on the Gamepad are several letters. Your job is to maneuver the letters into the correct order so that they say what the picture is – before time runs out. Harder difficulties give you less time and more false letters to move around and work past. That’s it. That’s as far as the gameplay goes.
Arcade mode allows one to four players to go through a random set of pictures/words trying to get a high score. Challenge mode is a single player affair, each challenge set being centered around one category, and your goal being to get every picture/word in that category right without running out of time once (usually there are 15-20 pictures per category). Beating one of the challenge mode sets on any difficulty nets you a star. These stars are used to unlock more challenge mode categories. There’s also the unlockable \”Mosaic\” mode, which is the same thing as Arcade mode, except the pictures start out incredibly blurred and only get clearer as your time limit runs out.
So, is the game fun? Kind of… it’s an unremarkable premise, certainly one that has been done similarly before, but it’s executed pretty well here – save for one inherent aforementioned problem that undermines the entire game. See, the satisfying part of the experience is figuring out what the picture is in time to put it together before the timer runs out. But if you flat-out can\’t figure out what a picture is trying to communicate, and the word is weird enough to not be immediately recognizable, you simply will not be able to proceed, and that’s just no fun.
Now, missing an answer(s) the first time and trying to get through a set, slowly figuring out more and more answers through trial and error and simply having more time to stare at the pictures and words, can be satisfying when finally getting a challenging picture correct. It is quite a bore outside of these moments, because you have probably figured out the words a mere minute before.
In the same way, the difficulty modes do not really make much sense. After players beat \”easy\”, they already know what all the pictures are; thus, they are no longer trying to figure out what the pictures are (duh). The challenge is then purely based around how fast someone can put the letters in the right order. It becomes a chore to work through the same pictures and words as before, just with more obstacles and less time to put the words together. In other words, it lacks the most satisfying part of the game: recognizing the pictures as fast as possible.
Arcade mode helps with these problems in some ways. With the much larger selection of pictures, there’s less repetition and more of the interesting challenge. There’s an issue with with that too, though, because players never get a second chance to figure out what the pictures are, and about half the pictures – for me, at least – I couldn\’t figure out within the time limit while still putting the word together on my first try. Barely any pictures are hard, per se, but most take more than a few seconds to understand what the picture wants a player to say.
The only reward of arcade mode is a new high score, not a new set of pictures. So, those who find getting high scores a thrill might enjoy this; but, otherwise it’s not nearly as enjoyable or satisfying an experience as Challenge mode. It is a fine mode for those looking to experience multiplayer, but players likely won\’t be wanting to play the game multiplayer for extensive periods of time anyways. Oh, and Mosaic mode is nearly impossible to ever get a single picture right in time, even on easy.
There’s also an issue of too much stuff being locked off. Specifically, unlocking additional sets of pictures in challenge mode requires that you use significant amounts of the additional difficulties – only three categories are available at the start – which really starts to feel repetitive as the game progresses.
The visuals are clean and straightforward. There’s not much to talk about here as most of it is just menus, but it looks pleasant enough and the layout is easy to follow. Most of the pictures are well chosen, and a few are quite pleasant to look at. The music is truly awful though.
Ultimately, UWordsmith was never going to draw in a whole lot of people. It did have some potential, with clean visuals and a generally engaging idea, but that was squandered by a misunderstanding of the game’s own premise (and awful music). If you happen to want to try a picture/word video game with friends, pick it up for just two bucks as it might work in that setting, but for the most part, I must unfortunately suggest that most players pass on the title – even keeping in mind the low price point.
Then again: I didn\’t even think to look at the TV. What do I know?