Developer: Nolithius
Price: $1.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

As a self-professed lover of most things weird and offbeat, I was immediately drawn to Crossword Dungeon. I mean it’s a crossword puzzle/RPG hybrid. That’s just awesome. Yet while the concept is cool and the execution is solid (for the most part), the overall experience still feels lacking.

So a role-playing crossword puzzle. Just how does that work? Well first off players need to choose from one of three playable classes; either the Barbarian, Ranger, or Scoundrel. After then picking a name their character is unceremoniously dumped into the first level of the dungeon and it’s time to get to work. The starting tile’s letter is always revealed, but from there it’s a matter of deciphering the answers from the hints (Right = “Most populated country in the world,” Down = “Second planet from the Sun,” etc) and fighting any monsters that get in the way. Tapping a direction moves to that particular spot and a small list of letters appears for each one with plenty of wrong answers to choose from. The flip-side to this is that each character will occasionally offer up special letters that, while usually the wrong choice for the word in question, can decimate enemies, heal the main character, and more. And, of course, there are quite a few special skills and other improvements that can be earned with experience points.

The concept behind Crossword Dungeon is sound. It’s more than sound, in fact. It’s downright clever. The constant sense of progression with each character is its own reward, but the fitting pixel visuals and multiple classes don’t hurt the fun-factor (or replay-factor) any either. I was also rather fascinated by the “dungeon” approach to crossword puzzles, by which I mean the way each puzzle is navigated in a linear fashion. No jumping to specific hints or only starting with the vertical words, progression is tied directly to character movement. In other words, it’s entirely possible to start from the end of a word and have to work backwards. And it’s fantastic.

Despite Crossword Dungeon’s general cleverness, however, it still feels a bit empty. Perhaps it’s the lack of any real loot or the way enemies will sometimes inexplicably get a free hit on the character while others patiently sit and wait to be slaughtered. It could also be the overly simple puzzles used in the first several levels. Ultimately it just feels like the concept hasn’t been pushed far enough.

Crossword Dungeon is most definitely an interesting experiment and a very interesting new approach to crosswords, it just doesn’t seem like it’s been fully fleshed-out. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun or an entertaining distraction, though.

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