App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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The iOS world has seen its fair share of word game hybrids that encompass virtually every conceivable combination out there. And yet, new ones are still popping up. New ones like Word Derby that partner spelling with what can best be described as “those weird racing games at carnivals where people spray water at tiny targets to make their rider on a stick go faster.” It’s as unlikely a pairing as I could imagine, and yet it works exceedingly well.
The ultimate goal of Word Derby is to just have fun competing with other players. Sure there are some riders (many with special abilities) that can be unlocked but the real focus in simply on playing. Experience is earned and levels are gained with each turn taken that provide players with special profile badges to show off, but they’re just for show. The race is the thing here. Once a match is set up (between 2 and 4 players) and a bet placed (players bet tickets; the game’s all important currency), both players are given a small set of jumbled letters and are tasked with spelling something. The first letter is locked in, however, and all players’ turns are submitted simultaneously, which not only complicates things but penalizes the submission of two of the same word with zero points. It can happen, believe me.
Word Derby’s presentation is pretty neat in that it’s like an adorable cartoon carnival game. The characters are weird and cute at the same time, and everything just seems “friendly.” Playing it is also a lot of fun, which surprises me a little since I was a bit wary of the simultaneous turns thing. But it adds an element of excitement to each round. “Did the other person find the same word I did? Did they find a better one? Are they using a power-up to boost their chances?” As does the bonus points meter that gets more and more empty the longer a turn takes to complete. But those power-ups, wow. What’s clever about their implementation is that none of them are game winners, they can only be used once per game, and players have to pay for each use with their own tickets. So no spamming and no decided advantage for players with a larger bankroll.
It’s unfortunate that Word Derby can only be played with an online connection (i.e. no subway play), but that’s sort of how it goes with multiplayer-only games. And while the inclusion of a pass-and-play option is nice, it’s fairly pointless when the game needs an online connection to simply start up. Still, once a game (or several) is going it can be plenty of fun. Especially earning the ticket pot after coming in first.