Going on a Letter Quest

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Here’s the gist of how I learned about and picked up this game:

Tim: Anyone want to review Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered?
My Mind: MUST! PLAY! *Gollum voice* It is the preciousssss. . .
Me: If no one else, is game, I’ll take it.
Tim: Here you go.
My Mind: HE GAVE US THE PRECIOUS! IT IS OURS!

As a former English major and working in libraries for over a decade, word games are a special sort of drug. They give me the chance to utilize what I’ve learned and all of the words I’ve read and mix that with my love of gaming. Add some learning elements (yes, I’ve learned some new words by playing!), and it’s a win-win in my book.

Grimm’s Journey works in a similar vein as Bookworm Adventures and Dungeon Scroll: you are given a set of letters, and you need to make as many words as possible with them in order to defeat enemies. Certain letters deal more damage, and bigger words mean more damage. Simple premise, but like most games like this, it’s all about the execution.

So how does this game chalk up? Read and find out!

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==The Pitch==

You play as Grimm, a Jawa-looking Grim Reaper who only wants to get pizza. Your goal is to help him through his journey through his house, a graveyard, the crystal caves and wherever else his phone tells him to go to find a local pizza place (he must be using Apple Maps). Along the way, you help him defeat monsters by using tiles to create words that deal damage to his foes.

The first comic strip to begin our journey.
The first comic strip to begin our journey. Who goes through a graveyard for pizza, anyway?

Of course, there’s someone trying to stop him from reaching his goal, and is sending mini-bosses to stop him.

We learn this tidbit after the first boss. Onward, for pizza!
We learn this tidbit after the first boss.
Onward, for pizza!

==What You Get==

You get exactly what is pitched, and then some. As you play the many stages of the game, you unlock challenge modes for each stage. These challenge modes give you extra crystals (money) and stars (a way to note progression), both of which are used to help you get upgrades in the game and complete the challenges in a timely fashion.

The general gameplay is simple, yet addicting. You are given a pile of tiles, and are to make words with them. Unless you are doing a timed challenge, you are not given a timer for your “turn,” so you can casually play through this and come up with the best words for the situation.

BasicRules
The basic rules of the game.

As you progress, you start to gain extra perks. For example, the first few levels are unlocking the shopkeepers to give you bonuses in the form of basic upgrades (more damage, more HP, better luck), books (they give you a single perk that levels up as you progress), potions (one-use for more HP or curing bad tiles), and special upgrades (seeing how much damage a word will deal, increasing number of guesses for chests). As you continue to play, you can unlock new characters and new weapons by completing certain tasks (such as having a certain number of crystal stars, or by taking so much damage).

Hey, I know this guy! This guy sells you books.
Hey, I know this guy!
This guy sells you books.

The story does progress every so often with a little comic strip after you defeat each boss.

Oh, it can.
Oh, it can.

You also get an Endless Mode that was not in the original. In this mode, you work on an map with endless enemies, slaying them for coins to purchase upgrades to keep going.

Still with me? Well, let’s get to the REAL nitty gritty.

==The Good==

As a fan of word games, I think execution is key. I felt that the core mechanic of the game followed the tried and true approach while adding enough of it’s own elements to make this game stand alone. There’s the obligatory “hard-to-use letters deal more damage,” but they’ve stepped things up a notch.

One of those notches: Crystal Letters!
One of those notches: Crystal Letters!

For example, in addition to the basic “You have these tiles until you use them or swap them all out for a new set,” you are given Crystal Tiles that give you temporary boosts and powers when used in a word (and yes, the abilities do stack). Combat is also pretty dynamic, as the enemies will mess with you by changing your tiles around. So far, I’ve had some odd tiles like duplicator (use them or else they’ll reproduce), plague (deal no damage, will spread to others if not used), cracked (deal no damage), whirlwind (changes every turn), poison (take % damage when used), and sharp (take a flat 20 damage when used), as well has foes changing an ENTIRE ROW of letters into one letter (like E or A or M).

Essentially, this takes a tried and true gameplay approach and adds a slightly random, challenging element to keep you on your toes. It’s been fun so far!

I’ll be the first to admit that I love the art. Grimm looks like a blue jawa with a scythe; what’s not to love! The only other character to unlock (as far as I know) is Rose, who’s a shorter, red version of Grimm with slightly different stats.

Seriously, he's a little Jawa doing a post-battle victory pose. WHY AREN'T YOU PLAYING THIS?!
Seriously, he’s a little Jawa doing a post-battle victory pose.
WHY AREN’T YOU PLAYING THIS?!

I would be remiss to forget noting that there are multiple weapons you can upgrade, ranging from the standard scythe to a lightsaber-scythe hybrid. Each one has a special effect that you can level up with crystals, and as the cost isn’t that high, it’s pretty easy to do. I’m always torn between effects vs appearance as I play, honestly.

Not the best weapon, but an elegant weapon of a more civilized age.
Not the best weapon, but an elegant weapon of a more civilized age.

The enemies are cute with fun blurbs on them, giving them names, personalities, and adding some jokes. It’s always nice to have some comedy, especially when the challenges get a little crazy (more on that later).

Oh, aren't you punny.
Oh, aren’t you punny, Mr. Dust Bunny.

Speaking of challenges, the game gives you a few things to strive toward. Not only do you have the general completion (which nets you a single star and some crystals for each level), but you also get challenge modes. The second star for each level is a time challenge, in which you need to complete the level in the alloted time. The third usually adds some sort of new twist, such as not being able to use a certain letter. The fourth and final star, the Crystal Star, makes every enemy Elite, which doubles their HP, increases damage, and gives them a special effect, such as “Cannot be damaged by words less than four letters.”

4 letter words, eh? I think I know a few. . .
4 letter words, eh? I think I know a few. . .

As I mentioned before, stars are used to track progress and unlock bonuses. The second character you can unlock, Rose, and one of the new weapons each require a set number of stars and crystal stars. They aren’t necessary, but some of these items do change the gameplay.

The early days of your shopping experience. This expands to multiple tabs and quite the list.
The early days of your shopping experience. This expands to multiple tabs and quite the list.

While upgrades are awesome, you do need to afford them. While you are given a set amount of crystals for every level you complete and as general treasure, you’ll quickly realize that they won’t get you far. Your crystal supply is supplemented by repeating levels and by completing “Quests.” Quests are challenges you are given seemingly at random, and once you complete one, you are given another between levels. These quests range from using a set number of tiles (“Use Five Duplicator Tiles”) to general tasks (“Use five words without nouns”) to level specific (“Use five letter words five times in one level”). This is where you’ll get most of your money, so pay attention to them!

Just a few quests I had early on.
Just a few quests I had early on.

As an added perk, if you find a quest too hard, you can pay crystals to complete the quest (you get nothing for it) in order to open the slot for a new one.

If you’ve played the original version of the game, you’ll notice that the music is a bit different here. Well, if you liked the original music, you’ll be able to switch back to it. Just a nice little perk that will make some people feel right at home!

I’m not going to lie to you: I’m loving how much the game makes me think. Yes, it’s a word game, but even I still learn from it. Honestly.

Glowy word? Book magically appears? This must be important!
Glowy word? Book magically appears? This must be important!

For example, every time you string letters together into a word, it will glow blue to confirm that it is in the dictionary. A little book appears next to it, and if you click on it, you will see the definition of the word. The game will also tell you the definition of the word each time you use it, often with multiple definitions. Can’t go wrong there!

They’ve also added a mini-game very similar to Wheel of Fortune/Hangman. You are presented with a number of blank spaces and a number of guesses. You’re goal is to choose letters that are part of this mystery word and, if you succeed without running out of guesses, you get the treasure. Some of these are crystals, while others are items to make the next fight possible. I’ve gotten some chests right before a miniboss, and the shield buff has saved my life more than once. A nice touch if I may say so!

I'd like to buy a vowel. . .
I’d like to buy a vowel. . .

Finally, the mode I spent little time on: Endless Mode. I’ve been so absorbed into the store mode and trying to complete it that I only gave this a passing view. In Endless Mode, you pick a character and weapon (all stats are the same, so you can actually just go for looks) and go through an endless sprawl of enemies until you die, with the goal of racking up a high score. It’s like the Galaga of word games!

I am both that guy and Tony Stark in this picture.
I am both that guy and Tony Stark in this picture.

==The Bad==

You didn’t think this was all going to be butterflies and rainbows, did you?

As much as I love games like this, one thing that does pop up as an issue is the repetition. As I mentioned before, you need to play through the level at a minimum of four times to unlock everything. The levels are identical each time with the same order of enemies and backgrounds, with the only exception being what the challenge provided. While I understand the purpose, playing the same level multiple times gets pretty old, especially when the enemy’s tactics are almost predictable by the fourth run.

And some bosses are just tough on their own!
And some bosses are just tough on their own!

Another note is the odd approach of the challenges, as sometimes they promote level grinding. For example, the first (mini?)boss of the game is a Dust Bunny, with a special ability: any word with only three letters deals no damage to him. This seems like an interesting approach, and shouldn’t be an issue.

Well, the third star challenge is “Words over five letters deal no damage.” This is essentially saying “I hope you have the HP for a slugfest, because this is going to get ugly.” I had to wait until I reached level 22 to have enough cash to get the upgraded health, armor, and damage to ensure I survived with more than 50 HP. No, I still haven’t finished the elite version due to it hitting like a truck.

Your books won't save you now. Yes, even your BOOKS gain XP!
Your books won’t save you now.
Yes, even your BOOKS gain XP!

For a completionist, there’s going to be a lot of grinding. You’ll be completing levels multiple times for crystals, to unlock all of the stars, and you’ll be playing levels with many enemies to level up your books to make some of the challenges a bit easier (not sure if books have a max level; why don’t you completionists go and find that out for me).

This may seem like a bit of nitpicking, but these are concerns that came up while playing it that I’m sure others have been feeling.

==The Verdict==

I’m only about four hours into the game, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and plan on continuing to play it in the coming days. If the phone we saw at the beginning of the game is to be believed, I’m about halfway through the game right now (just hit the Crystal Caves, and I still have some bonus stages to complete), so with another 3-6 hours, I should have everything completed and unlocked. Of course, knowing my luck, I’ll get a bad batch of tiles and have to redo a stage, but hey, learning experience!

Even with the length, this would be well worth the $8 price tag. Hell, once I heard about it, even if it wasn’t handed to me to write about, I would have gone out to purchase a copy JUST to write about it, just as I did with Chroma Squad.

When I first loaded the game, my wife was in the room. Once she saw the art and the first level, she nearly shoved me out of the chair as she wanted to play this. She’s not a major gamer, and even she found reasons to love the game. If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.

If you like word games, want a cute and educational game for kids, and enjoy helping an adorable and very hungry Grim Reaper on his quest for pizza, then you should pick this up. You also get the un-remastered version of the game as well if you are into doing comparisons.

At least the game is electronically delivered so you don't have to go through the Crystal Caves. . .
At least the game is electronically delivered so you don’t have to go through the Crystal Caves. . .

Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered is available on Steam and the Humble Store. Don’t forget to take a look at the blog that Bacon Bandit Games has up and running to talk about their awesome work!

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