App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
Graphics / Sound Rating:
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The promotional screenshots advertise Letterbox as "Jenga meets Boggle"... that's a lot catchier than calling it a 3D rotatable wordsearch with gravity mechanics, I'll admit. I'll also admit that I tore through the superb Xbox Live Arcade game Fez this weekend, so the whole 2D into rotatable 3D thing is rocking my boat right now. It's not quite the Fez of wordsearches, but Letterbox is yet another vocab venture on iOS that word game lovers will enjoy.
There are three play modes in Letterbox. In Panic Mode the letters blocks are constantly falling, while in Chill Mode no blocks fall at all, but it's Clear Mode that I keep returning to. Having three blocks fall from the sky every time I complete a word gives Letterbox a strategical dimension (making it 4D), especially towards the end of the game as the letters become sparse. It's not just about clearing every word you see because you need to preserve the right letters to keep making words, but with the new letters coming down there's the temptation to try and blitz through and hope the right letters drop - especially since longer words with big-scoring letters can rack up some serious points and propel me up the Game Center leaderboards. Also keeping things chaotic are a strong variety of power-ups, especially the bomb block that explodes anything in its vicinity. These too add something to the strategy.
While rotating across the marvellously presented 3D interface is as smooth as it is simple, it can often be tricky to select blocks hiding deeper within the cube - or even to see them. This was always a likely problem with a game like Letterbox, and if I'm patient then I can usually select the word after a few goes, but maybe some clever jiggery-pokery could've glossed over this issue. Otherwise Letterbox really is one of the most neatly presented games I've seen on iOS. Sure, there's an underlying simplicity to it compared to other games, but for a 3D game it nonetheless impresses.
Having gone through a lot of word games on iOS, I think the best compliment I can pay Letterbox is that it does something unique and that the something unique in question isn't just a gimmick. The game is well worth that little bit extra in cost and has enough going for it to place somewhere near the upper echelons of any word game lover's collection, even if it is rather lacking in little comedy fez hats.