Developer: Kieffer Bros.
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad
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Spell Rift may be one of the year’s best adventure games -- a mysterious journey brimming with ambiance. The catch? It also happens to be a word search title.
Where most entries in the genre look to capture the experience of holding a newspaper or playing a board game, the latest from developer Kieffer Bros. is as much about the contemplative experience of hunting for words as it is about finding them. The game’s 21 levels are framed as quest to uncover the elusive Well of Words in an fantasy world amidst the clouds; a quest which is communicated through the game’s stellar marriage of design and aesthetic.
Mechanically, Spell Rift juxtaposes simplistic goals and controls (swipe to find 150 unique words, or to collect 50 words in two minutes, etc.) with an ever-growing roster of specially-powered squares. Poisonous green viruses which infect the board with their letter if not cleared away; ticking bombs that need to be used in a word within five turns; precious hearts players must keep on the grid to continue. Each of the game’s three zones brings with it three or four more tiles, making the jump from level to level feel like a trip through a land filled with fantastical contraptions to catalogue and master.
Kieffer Bros.’ long history of intricate puzzle design is on display in each stage, as tile types are expertly combined to deliver a layer of challenge that exists above and beyond the stock objectives. Capped off with a clever name, each level feels like a uniquely curated brain-teaser designed to help the player think of this genre - and of words - in entirely new ways.
And curation really is the crux of the game. Every element that might have - in other hands - gone unadorned, is used here as an opportunity to build a world. The twinkling of the score meter as it fills alludes to a mystical liquid. Each iridescent line that forms a path to the next level hints at the nostalgic progression of Super Mario World. Underscoring it all is a must-have soundtrack filled with the evocative twinkling of xylophones, tribal drumbeats, and transportive synth-piano. Spell Rift makes finding words feel like playing Myst.
Or perhaps Jumanji.