Price: $1.99 (Sale price; regular $3.99)
Version Reviewed: 1.2
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Finally, the day has arrived! Lexulous is in the App Store. Lexulous is an online reincarnation of Scrabble playable on both a dedicated site and through Facebook; it was originally called "Scrabulous," but lawyers took issue with that and a name-change was mandated. Surprisingly, the Lexulous Facebook app trumps the official Scrabble app in terms of both finesse and popularity, with over 500,000 daily users and, in my opinion at least, a far better interface than the official Facebook version of Scrabble. Until recently, however, you couldn't take your Lexulous games with you on the go, which is the iPhone Scrabble app's killer feature. [Read my review of EA's Scrabble app here.]
As a longtime Lexulous fan, I was immensely excited to see its appearance in the App Store. Unfortunately, for me, the initial release back in May was a huge letdown, lacking basic features like friend-to-friend challenges. Is it better now? Definitely. Is it up to par with the official Scrabble app? Unfortunately, the answer for the moment is still "no," but it's still a good app in its own right, especially if you're tied to the online version of Lexulous. As with the Scrabble app, if you manage multiple games on Lexulous, you'll have access to all of them at the touch of a finger thanks to Facebook Connect.
Before I continue, here's a quick overview of how the app works. For newcomers, it's important to note that Lexulous is a different game than Scrabble, despite the obvious resemblance. You play with hands of 8 tiles, bingoes can be made with either 7 or 8 tiles, it's a 15x15 grid, and bonus word squares are placed in different spots. Despite that, it's largely the same Scrabble game that everyone knows and loves.
When you first start, you'll have to log in with Facebook Connect; if you don't have an account, you can create one in-app. From there, you can view your current games; challenge a friend; join a game; or host a table of your own. And, of course, you can play Scrabble...er, Lexulous. Sorry.
The in-game screen is much has you would expect. You can see your hand; place tiles; see the current score; and so on. Double-tapping zooms in on the board (it automatically switches to this zoomed view when you try to place a tile). There are buttons to swap your tiles, play the word you've set down, and to pass your turn located beneath your hand. There are also buttons for refreshing, shuffling your tiles, and for recalling all of your tiles on the board. By tapping the "Next" button in the top-right corner, you can jump to your next active game. (If you have no turns pending, you'll go back to the main "My Games" screen.)
Some of the other features are harder to find. For example, to access the player-to-player chat, you have to tap on the bar with your names. Also, there's no move list. And to access the dictionary, you have to go to a separate screen, unlike the official Scrabble app, which has a button on the main game screen. The two-letter word list requires you to go to a separate screen, and then click on the list.
Lexulous' greatest strength is, quite simply, that it's a fun game. After all, Scrabble is the most celebrated of word games; Lexulous just adds a few extra dimensions with its 8-tile hands and slightly varied rules, and it's still as great a game as ever. Also, Lexulous has one definite benefit over Scrabble: its user pool. There are far more Lexulous users than Scrabble users, it seems, so it's easier to start a game. You can also start international games, if you happen to be multilingual!
All's not perfect, though. I love Lexulous online because it's better than all of the other Scrabble alternatives, and it has a degree of polish and ease of use that just makes me a dedicated fan. However...
The first time I opened the Lexulous app after the recent update, I ran into a few problems immediately. I was trying, you see, to play the word "JOE." (Yes, "JOE" is a valid word.) "JOE" also involved the words "ER" and "OE," both of which are valid. And then I hit "Play," and received the bizarre message: "One or more of your words is invalid. Please try again."
Talk about frustrating! Fortunately, restarting the app allowed me to place the word. That's the only actual problem I've had, thank goodness! Lexulous is apparently crash-free and runs perfectly fine with minimal (if any) lag.
Sadly, Lexulous doesn't fair so well when it comes to the little things. There's no animation, for example, when you transition from zoomed-out to zoomed-in; the result is that it feels choppy and disjointed, especially for an iPhone app where appearances are paramount. I hate having the dictionary a page away, where I can't see my tiles or the board, and the same goes for the two-letter word list. Accessing the chat is completely unintuitive. Perhaps most baffling is the omission of a moves list for your current game. Its complete absence is nothing short of shameful. And one awesome feature online is the ability to write yourself "notes" so that you can remember words for later. I also miss the progress graph.
It should be noted that Lexulous was originally released without a dictionary, the ability to send challenges to your friends, and so on. The new update addresses a lot of previous problems and makes it decently functional, but the implementation feels simply unfriendly to power users like myself, and I can't help but feel that the team initially released an unfinished product and is fixing it as they go. I also miss things like Scrabble's unique "Teacher" feature, which reveals the highest-point word to you after your turn was over.
Lexulous online distinguishes itself because of its clean, accessible interface that makes intense play sessions easy and quick. The iPhone app, however, lacks that ephemeral quality that I keep calling "polish."
So, is Lexulous a worthwhile buy? For the moment, at least, I'm torn. It's a mediocre implementation of an amazing online version, while the official Scrabble app is a great game crippled by a mediocre online interface. For many Scrabble lovers, the decision will boil down to Lexulous versus Scrabble; from the days of Scrabulous, such has been the battle.
And, unfortunately, this is where Scrabble wins. You see, Scrabble has "Pass 'n' Play" (one iPhone, multiplayer), ordinary multiplayer (multiple iPhones, local), Facebook Connect multiplayer, Solitaire mode (you-vs-nobody), and a Computer VS mode with three difficulty levels. Lexulous, sadly, only has Facebook Connect. Why can't we at least have LEX the robot, the AI which allows for single-player games on the online side of things?
I am still a firm fan of Lexulous, and if you're a heavy user of the online version, investing in the app is probably the way to go. Diehard Scrabble fans will probably want both. But if Lexulous wants to truly compete with EA's giant as the only Scrabble app you'll need, they're going to need to pour a lot more effort into the mobile version. It feels incomplete as-is, and I really don't see why the team can't fix basic interface annoyances. Lexulous has the potential to be a Scrabble-killer; it's already proven that online. I'm just hoping that RJ Softwares decides to continue with their updates.
As of today, though, Lexulous is also half the price of Scrabble. (It's on sale for $1.99.) At that price, any user of Lexulous online can afford to give this one a go. Really, it allows you to play the game that we all know and love—and while Lexulous-for-the-iPhone is far from perfect, it still manages to accomplish that basic goal.