Developer: Electronic Arts
Price: 4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1.88

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Scrabble is probably one of the best word games ever. It’s barely got any serious competition—as far as word games go, Scrabble is the game that everyone else tries to mimic, and it probably didn’t surprise anyone when it was ported to the iPhone. Still, I hesitated before buying it, but the latest update made me jump. I can honestly say that playing Scrabble on my iPod Touch is one of the best experiences I’ve had with a game in a while, thanks to the genius built into the game itself. There are, unfortunately, plenty of areas where EA Games could improve things, but I’m still satisfied; Scrabble is still one of the most ingenious word games ever created.

img_0015 It takes a little while to actually get to the game. When you first start up the app and pass through an animated loading screen, you’re presented with a menu. Actually, you’re presented with multiple menus. In order to start a game, first you have to hit “Play,” on the main menu, then choose a local, WiFi, or Facebook game, and then you can set up the actual table. EA Games seems to have a fondness for slow animations. Weird decisions regarding the menus are present throughout the game—selecting things take too long, “back” buttons exit pop-ups (instead of “x”‘s in the right-hand corner), and the interface as a whole could use some work.

But once you finally begin, rest assured: this is Scrabble, and EA made sure to deliver the true game. Tiles are moved with your finger, and you can zoom in and scroll around the board as you’d expect. Your usual features (bonus squares, tile exchanging, bingoes) are all implemented in true form. The game automatically checks your words against its database, so there’s no need for challenges. There’s the typical deliberation, the intense concentration, and the same word-bending skills required to succeed, and there’s the same corresponding sense of victory when you place a well-played word. You can play the computer (there are three different difficulties), yourself, or someone else on the same device with Pass and Play, or you can play with someone else’s device via a WiFi network. And…well, it’s Scrabble, the same as always.

img_0024Or is it? One of the best features is one that you won’t find in a physical version: the implementation of Facebook Connect. You can log in to your Facebook account, start a game, pick up an old game, create a table…and it’ll be there waiting for you when you next start, whether you’re on the computer or on your iPhone. The asynchronous multiplayer means that you can play for a while with someone else, and then one of you can call it quits for the day while the game extends for several days or weeks: it’s your call. But, unfortunately, you’ll have little reason to play on the computer. The Facebook Scrabble app is slow-loading and has less features than either the iPhone version or its competitors on Facebook’s site (think Lexulous). The problem with the lackluster Facebook app is that it creates a smaller player pool, especially compared to Lexulous (though Lexulous doesn’t have an iPhone app). It sometimes takes a while to find games.

The discrepancy between feature sets isn’t just limited to Facebook versus the iPhone. The iPhone game itself has some odd quirks. Playing a local game, for example, gives you less features than playing a Facebook game. Facebook games have access to a dictionary, including a two-letter word list, and the Teacher function, which shows you the best move for your last turn. Meanwhile, local games have a Best Word feature (or drawback?) that makes the game pick out your best move for a single turn. While you can only use five Best Words per game, it still invites abuse. Neither version has an actual dictionary (the Facebook Connect games just check to see if your word is valid). I’d love to have the Teacher function for offline games, as it really can help you improve.

img_00261There are other problems, too. When I first got the app, it crashed a few times, though it’s gotten better. Also, when you select a letter for a blank tile, you don’t use the keyboard or something as frivolously practical like that. You have to scroll through, letter by letter, until you find the right one. And while the controls are simple and well-done for the most part, rearranging the letters in your hand doesn’t always work as it should.

But despite these complaints, Scrabble is a great game. Even with EA Game’s slightly awkward handling, it’s still just as fun to play as ever, and there’s no denying that the shiny graphics are nice to look at. Whether you fancy playing against yourself, the AI, a friend, or a total stranger, Scrabble will satisfy your word craving, and really, what more do you want? If you’re a fan of the game, I recommend picking it up; even with its odd quirks and occassional drawbacks, I thought that it was worth my money.

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