Wot I Think: Bookworm Adventures 2

By Alec Meer on August 10th, 2009 at 9:09 pm.

I kan spel reel gud! Hear iz mi reevoo off Popcaps brand nu puzzle-actchun gaym Bookworm Adventures: Volume 2, wich haz mayd mee evun betta at spellink. I hop yoo lik it.

Turns out there’s an awful lot of acronyms and three-letter Latin words I’ve never heard of. If I’m ever stuck for a word in Bookworm Adventures 2, sequel to Popcap’s much-admired ‘toon spelling/roleplaying game, I can generally tap in two consonants and a vowel and I’ll get through, despite having learned precisely nothing.

Such a thing isn’t terribly satisfying, of course. I was much happier when I defeated a murderous gingerbread house by typing ‘gardening’, or a drooling, ogre-like Tweedle Dee with ‘xanax.’ Two Xs, mofo! MEGA-POINTS.

Essentially, it’s violent Scrabble. The longer the word you manage to construct out of your random grid of letters, the more devastating the titular Bookworm’s next attack upon whichever fictional character made flesh he’s currently having a spell-off against. It works marvellously as a casual game because it doesn’t require any gaming ability, but it works equally marvellously as a more traditional game because it nonetheless conjures up the peaks of triumph and troughs of defeat as chasing around a bunch of guys with guns.

Little in the way of time limits and a super-intuitive click-what-you-obviously-need-to-click control system means the challenge is not of your reflexes or technological aptitude, but simply of your mental acuity – both in terms of constructing impressively big words, and in terms of augmenting them with coloured powertiles and the occasional potion to manage your health and better whittle down the enemy’s. Easy to learn, slightly more difficult to master and all that – but never that difficult. A working knowledge of the English language is all you really need to blast through it.

In a lot of ways, you couldn’t think of a more RPS game (in which I include you good people as well as the benighted Hivemind). It’s funny, it’s joyful, it involves wanton aggression and it’s about showing off one’s word-power. Popcap may be a terrifying mega-octopus wrapped around the entire casual genre, but between this and the sublime Plants vs Zombies, they’re no longer simply sewing up the market – they’ve very much found a voice of their own. It’s funny and modern, and tied in so thoroughly to the sort of sense of silly-meets-satirical humour that’s prevalent on the web. Lolcats with a literary vein, almost.

Perhaps there’s occasionally a trying-too-hard element to it that won’t sit well with anyone who’s not keen on the ironic kitsch of Peggle and Plants vs Zombies, but BA2 really goes for it in terms of silly enemy design (earless tigers!) and in its unnecessarily but pleasingly elaborate descriptions of said enemies. It grows ever-weirder and more playful as it goes along: there’s consistently a real anticipation for whatever ridiculous thing it’s going to throw at you next.

And just as well, because the comedy is the only cast-iron reason to buy this if you already own Bookworm Adventures 1. As with the underwhelming Peggle Nights, Popcap don’t seem terribly interested in shaking up their own formulas in this sequel. In terms of mechanics, it is in practice identical to BA1. You’re creating words from letter tiles – and it’s not like there’s been a whole new English dictionary to add in since the first game.

Sure, there are additions – more magic tiles and combo attacks, a bunch of diverting minigames and achievements, and the introduction of a choice of companions who provide some constant, passive buff. It’s significantly better-presented too, particularly in the far more elaborate enemy animations (sadly, Popcap remain steadfast in their long-term refusal to stray from an olde worlde fixed resolution, but to my fuzzy eyes it stretches up to a proper big boy size without too much nasty blurring). Again, you’ll stick with it as much to see what craziness totters onto the screen next as to beat it.

Still – it is the same game, and ultimately the same experience. The charm and absurdity of the enemies will dissipate once you’ve been through the main campaign once and resort to the minigames and achievement challenges, so you’ll wind up only concentrating on mega-words, and not really what’s happening on screen. I do feel mean to criticise this at all, because it really is a super-fun time and a testament to how close to the top of their game Popcap now are, but I can’t help but wish they’d been a little bolder underneath BA2′s surface. They’re certainly honing their form, voice and polish, but after the wonderful inventiveness of Plants vs Zombies, I’d hoped this would pack a few more suprises. A multiplayer mode or a more meaningful choice of abilities whenever Wormboy levels up would have made all the difference, I suspect. That said, Walker adores it a little more than I, but that’s probably because he gets a kick out of beating anyone who gets an apostrophe wrong to death with their own shoes.

If you missed Bookworm Adventures 1, do go straight for this: it’s lovely, smart, funny and crazily compulsive. If you didn’t, well, you know exactly what you’re in for. But you also know that means a guaranteed good time, and this time around with a lagoon of added charm and giggles. Oh, and fear not an excess of dictionary-fascism, should you be a little on the grammatically-challenged side: it’s surprisingly accepting of colloquialisms and even the odd gentle swear.

Demo here, if you’d like to make up your own mind.

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43 Comments »

  1. LewieP says:

    Playing (and enjoying) the first one now, will probably crack straight on to the sequel when I am done.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Schaulustiger says:

    Enjoyed it very much. I thought it would be difficult as a non-native speaker, but it’s still well manageable with 4 to 6 letter words. I’d probably say it would be too easy otherwise since you don’t have to dwell into the RPG bit (potions and stuff) if you one-hit half of the enemies with elaborate 12-letter-constructions (I’m thinking of Johns EG review here with his adorable “penitentiary”). Oh, and I did find the arena mode quite challenging where you fight all the bosses in real-time. Definitely adds to the replay value.

    20€ on Steam is a bit hefty, though. Since PvZ was only half the price I’d suggest you wait for the inevitable price drop or a special sale.

  3. alset says:

    Loved it. Although I started cheating halfway through by using “word subsets” on wolfram alpha just to see where the story was going.

  4. Jarmo says:

    Alec, you just sold me the game. Thanks, I guess!

  5. Natalie says:

    I really loved this game… until it borked. I reinstalled it over a week ago, still broken. Contacted customer service and they still haven’t got back to me. Kind of disappointing :( I’m probably going to have to delete all my progress and start over again.

  6. Lewis says:

    Yeah, I thought it was… good. The least impressive of PopCap’s games in a while, certainly. You’re spot on about how uncourageous it often feels. You’ll be plodding along and having a lot of fun, then snap out of it and realise, well, it’s just the Boggle that’s entertaining mainly, not Bookworm Adventures 2.

    Aside from how silly it is, of course, which is just lovely.

  7. LactoseTheIntolerant says:

    It looks delightful, but £15 is a wee bit too much for me to stomach for this sort of game. I’ll keep my eyes open for whenever it slips under £10. Hopefully there will be some sort of crazy-cheap Defense Grid-like sale on Steam. That was another one I held off buying initially because the price felt like too much.

  8. Vinraith says:

    BWA1 and 2 are easily my favorite Popcap games. Peggle’s randomness gets old fast, PvZ gets repetitive and uninteresting before the campaign’s halfway finished, but Bookworm Adventures is endlessly entertaining IMO.

  9. Concept says:

    A good time waster. But you just have to get the Mad Hat and keep pressing scramble until you get fifteen bazillion gem tiles and come up with a whalloping word.

    What would be good if the enemy actually used the same tile board, which would possibly screw you saving up for good words, and then multiplayer would be a natural step on from that.

  10. The_B says:

    I do like it, but I bought it at launch and I’m STILL stuck on that bloody final boss. :(

  11. roBurky says:

    I own Bookworm Adventures 1. But I can’t remember where I bought it, or how to redownload it. One of the perils of purchasing downloads, I suppose.

  12. Wasabi2k says:

    Most desired feature: dictionary definitions of the words you spell when you spell them.

    As you have said you can often come up with weird little words by shoving letters together, but I want to know what they MEAN.

  13. Andresito says:

    I’ll buy it this month… I still think 20€ is way too much though.

  14. Vinraith says:

    For some reason “clitoris” isn’t in the game’s dictionary.

  15. qrter says:

    PvZ gets repetitive and uninteresting before the campaign’s halfway finished

    This I have to disagree with. If there’s one thing PvZ does, it’s keeping things fresh. Up til the very end of the adventure/story campaign (whatever it’s called) and after, it keeps introducing new, inventful elements.

    This I could not find in BW2, which just seems to amble along nicely. Which is fine, but it doesn’t have the surprise or wonder of a PvZ.

    (Also agree, for some reason, €20 is basically too high for a PopCap game, really.)

  16. Vinraith says:

    @qrter – “If there’s one thing PvZ does, it’s keeping things fresh. ”

    How? I stopped playing during the second set of “night” levels because it was just too much of a repetitive grind. I’d like to go back and get to the minigames, which I’m sure are a good time, but I just can’t drag myself through the drudgery.

  17. Nighthood says:

    The best word I managed to get in there was Quizzy. 3 gold letters and two silvers. KA-POW, worded to death!

  18. DMJ says:

    I slaughtered a boss with “COTYLEDON”. A university education is not wasted!

  19. Gravey says:

    I’m licking it! Now hop!

  20. Fenchurch says:

    @Vinraith

    I know! Clitoris and a whole bunch of other words aren’t in there that aren’t /that/ sweary. In other news I was amused that Rapist, Incestuous and Abortions were greeted by Lex piping “Great!”, “Astonishing!”, “Very Good!” respectively

  21. Howl says:

    Loved it to bits! I didn’t own the first one so it was a fresh experience. I annihilated a flamingo with Vacillated and the screen just erupted. It doesn’t get much more fun than that. I was reminded of pulling off a big combo chain in Super Puzzle Fighter.

  22. Krondonian says:

    Well I’ve never been so pleased to have haemorrhaging as in Bookworm Adventures 1.

    Although dastardly American english deprived me of the first ‘a’. Gah!

  23. Thiefsie says:

    I got over this in about 30 minutes, and I’m an avid reader/english liker.

    It was just…. boring.

    And I would be more interested if I knew there was an algorithm in there to ensure that you could spell a 12-16 letter guaranteed every time if you are clever enough.

    And yep, no definitions to silly words is bit of a bummer.

    I would have also liked the ability to type in the words rather than click them in.

  24. A-Scale says:

    I must say, the bookworm voice is AWFUL. At least on the ipod version anyway.

  25. Freudian Trip says:

    Having played the Demo I’d quite like a little definition of each word you spell. I’d like to be able to use Qua, Quar and Quax in sentences but am just too damn dilatory to look it up in the vocabulary page booky thing.

  26. TheArmyOfNone says:

    When I read the first paragraph, I was hoping for the entire review to be in the same style. Reminded me of Arcanum when you played an exceptionally dull character (or the Fallout’s (the good two)). Oh well. I’m still tempted to buy this for my mum.

  27. Lewis says:

    “I would have also liked the ability to type in the words rather than click them in.”

    I’ve always thought that about Bookworm Adventures. Seemed an absolutely mad decision not to bring that in for number two.

  28. Matzerath says:

    I bought the original bookworm because I assumed that the ‘adventure’ part of the sequels was just a bunch of goofy overlay to the same game. Hearing that there aren’t continuous definitions convinces me the core engine hasn’t been improved.
    I know – ‘core engine’ for a casual spelling game, but dammit that should make it an easier thing to improve!!!

  29. Mox says:

    I defeated the red queen with FORNICATES. Erudite obscenity FTW.

    I guess you can’t do typing-input because sometimes you have a choice of letters and you might not want to use a special tile because you’re saving up for a three-special combo. You could use SHIFT to mean “use the most powerful tile available” and unshifted to mean “use the least powerful tile available” but that would be a little on the weird side, not so accessable.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Morph says:

    Typing wouldn’t work, since you need the choice of which tile to choose when there are multiple of the same letter (in case some are gems, some aren’t etc.).

    I enjoyed it, and had a few chuckles (the robot dance-off was awesome), but I kind of regret paying £15 since it is essentially the same as BW1, and now I’ve completed the main adventure I doubt I’ll play any more. Unlike PvZ, which I finished then went back to try out all the challenges, get the achievements, grow my virtual garden etc.

  31. Antistar says:

    Great game. I was lucky enough to be able to flatten the final boss in a single hit with ‘nationally’ – or ‘contention’. One of the two. Very satisfying.

    ‘Canadians’ was another favourite, partway through the campaign.

    It was like “Yeah, take that, creature from Eastern myth and legend! Taken out by CANADIANS!”

  32. madhaha says:

    I am moving house to somewhere where there’s no internet connectivity. My roomate confronted me and took £15 off the bills so I’d buy and download BA2 before we moved. We had 4 minutes left on the trial and she had been saving it for the last week since she couldn’t bare the thought of not being able to play it.

  33. MD says:

    It recognises ‘sluts’, but not ‘shite’. I find this offensive. But yeah, I had a lot of fun with the demo, that was enough for me though I think. Might pick it up down the track if it gets cheap and I’m feeling desperate.

  34. Pie21 says:

    BA1 was awesome, but there’s no way I’m paying $20 for another one. Multiplayer would make it an insta-buy at $20, otherwise I’ll wait til Steam cuts it to $10.

    Since we’re on about record words here, I’ve got PHILANDERERS, BOUNTIFULLY, OCTAHEDRONS (best album), PERNICIOUSLY, RESPLENDENT, TONSILLITIS and GONORRHEAS.

    And my longest – killing a Summoned Cerberous with INCREDULOUSLY. Featuring 2 diamonds, no less.

  35. Ian says:

    Bought and finished the first, then bought the second and am playing it now. I should be grumpy because haven’t changed much, but it’s an enjoyable little thing and, as I do when I spend more time playing Scrabble or doing crosswords, am managing to see more decent words now.

    “Bequeathing” has been my best so far, I think.

  36. Andy says:

    Yeah this was a bit pricey – If I’d had the first I probably wouldn’t have bothered getting it.

    Pretty good fun still though. Quite enjoyed spelling the heck out of the mad hatter.

    The multiplayer idea would have been great! Then again everyone could just go and play illiterati on yahoo if they wanted to do that ;) (and if that still exists?)

  37. ad_hominem says:

    I disliked the first Bookworm Adevntures because it wouldn’t accept ‘Toblerone’ as a word. Otherwise it was great. This second one is too expensive for me at the moment though.

  38. Jon says:

    I’ll be waiting for the drop in price, loved the demo but PopCap have priced this a bit too high for me.

  39. Carra says:

    A bit hard for someone whos native tongue isn’t English. Still, the demo was quite doable with 4-6 character words.

    And shoo censorship. It doesn’t accept tits while rapes is fine. And why did it not accept Jews?

  40. Ian says:

    I was disappointed when the first one didn’t accept “wizardy”. I know it’s not a word but it should be.

  41. Simon says:

    Quite a few words that it wont accept – most of them in British and American dictionaries…

  42. Clovus says:

    PvZ gets repetitive and uninteresting before the campaign’s halfway finished
    I have to second this. I nearly gave up from boredom during the fog levels. Every 10 levels you get another weird mini-game, and new zombies/plants are constantly added, but the game really does drag a bit in the middle. I enjoyed the roof levels though, and had lots of fun after finishing the campaign. I’m a sucker for stupid repetive actions, so I actually got my tree to 100 ft. That final bit of advice was a real letdown.

    On BWA: I don’t know what to do now. I liked the demo for BWA1, but you tell me to buy 2. But 2 is $20 right now, which is way too much. Should I buy BWA1 now for $9.99 or wait a few months to just get BWA2 for cheap. I don’t want both. Arrrrggh….

  43. PaulMorel says:

    Question: Can you replay the main campaign?

    For me, the most disappointing thing about BA1, was that I couldn’t replay the main campaign on a harder difficulty. I mastered all the minigames in little time, and I wanted a bigger challenge. It doesn’t seem that hard to implement, so I’m surprised that it wasn’t in there.

    Also, yeah, multiplayer BA would be the shit.