Once upon a time there was a game called Bookworm Adventures, and while it was quite good, it wasn’t what one imagined it to be. The word creation aspect was turned out well, but the adventure/RPG elements were tacked on rather than an integral part of the game. What’s a developer to do when they see an opportunity wasted, but step into the void and try to do it right? Spellirium takes the idea of fusing word creation with a point & click adventure and runs with it.
The current pre-alpha build of Spellirium is available from the developer’s web site, rough and unpolished, missing most of the audio, but showing an excellent fusion of genres. The primary gameplay involves using a 7 x 7 grid of letters to form words, vertically or horizontally, forwards and backwards or up and down. The letters are completely jumbled, of course, and you can swap any two to start forming every word you can think of. There’s an energy bar at the top of the screen and each letter swap drains a bit from it, with the amount drained dependent on how far apart the letters are. Side-by-side is far cheaper than all the way across the grid. As the game progresses, color starts being added, with bonuses in scoring for making words a single shade. Sometimes you’ll want to go for scoring, other times you’ll grab anything just to try to get the replacement letters needed for a specific word. It all depends on the situation and the needs of a particular challenge.
This is where the adventure elements come in. In addition to a nicely animated (for the most part, it’s still a bit rough in places) group of characters trying to survive in a unique world, Spellirium‘s story sometimes dictates that a certain type of word is needed to progress. One of the earliest challenges is dying wool red, which requires words related to dying or red to dip the wool into the dying vat. Spinning the wool then needs words spelled in a specific series of directions to make the spinning wheel turn. Even in its current early version, there’s a lot of thought put into integrating the word-creation gameplay with the story’s scenarios.
It’s a great basis for a game, but the word “early” keeps popping up for obvious reasons. The game balance is off, requiring a good amount of grinding to be able to earn enough to buy the necessary items to progress. There’s very little audio, although the current funding campaign is to be able to afford decent voice acting. There also really needs to be a way to make words greater than seven letters long, although it’s possible this is provided by one of the word matrix upgrades I didn’t get to see, due to being stuck at a plot point. The foundation and overall structure looks to be excellent, though, and the story is interesting enough that I want to follow it to the end. Spellirium has a long way to go towards completion, but already is doing a great job on living up to the promise of its origin.