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[Editor's Note: This updated review reflects balancing changes and other tweaks made to the game shortly after our original review, wherein the initial release earned a 2.5 (Okay) score. Due to the updates arriving so quickly after our review posted, we decided to revisit the game and adjust the appraisal accordingly.]
In a marketplace chock full of free-to-play word games, Bookworm Heroes plays like a clear attempt to take back the mantle. PopCap didn’t invent casual word puzzles, but its Bookworm franchise certainly had a hand in its popularity. This asynchronous multiplayer entry boasts spritely animations and well-balanced word fighting mechanics, and serves as a nicely modernized successor to the franchise's name.
This is a word game by way of the fighting genre, right down to opposing health bars that drain with successive attacks. Spelling longer words results in stronger attacks, and using specialized letter blocks offers potential effects like refilling health, packing more punch, or even chancing a second attack in one turn. As a fighting game, it features a distinct cast. Lex the Bookworm is joined by a cadre of human (and humanoid) characters: Hamlet the scribe, Razor the hacker, and Polyphemus the stone golem. Each packs his or her own specialized maneuvers, like Lex’s capability to eat words to refill his health, or Hamlet’s ability to ink opponents’ letters. While it’s odd at first to see such cute mascots hitting and biting each other, it fades into the background as part of the game’s charm.
One alternating hero per week can be used for free, while the others cost between 750 and 1,500 coins per use. You can also select optional pets to take into a fight for extra bonus effects and attacks. With the exception of one pet that allows unlimited use once bought for $1.99, each of the pets costs 750 coins per use, as well. The game starts you with a cache of coins to bankroll your first round of games, and you'll earn more as you play words during the games and find your favorite hero.
While the initial release briefly struggled with coin balance, making it difficult to carry on games without spending cash, PopCap quickly updated the game to solve those issues. If you spend coins on a hero or pet and a match subsequently lapses, you'll be refunded. You can rely on the free hero of the week, but you'll still likely run low on coins by constantly renting the pets, since an average match won't earn back your 750 coins. For that reason, it's best to go into battle without pets (or with your unlimited, coin-boosting pet, if purchased) while gathering currency for tougher opponents.
Bookworm Heroes isn't doing anything particularly new in the word game arena; it's essentially a standard word game, consisting of life bars that serve as score counters with a hard cap. But its friendly interface and balanced cast make it a stellar example of the genre. Like a well-made fighting game, a last-minute attack can reverse the momentum of a match, making for a nail-biting experience until one of the wordsmith warriors taps out.
The bottom line. Bookworm Heroes is a polished word/fighting game hybrid, with finely-tuned powers that keep matches active to the very end.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Entertaining word game that can deliver tense moments. Well-animated cast of characters. Differentiated and well-balanced powers.
Playing without a rented pet is a disadvantage.