If you have not played Grow Word yet, be forewarned that this review contains spoilers that may take away from the experience. The player is expected to learn how to play the game on their own, and while it is not difficult, the following paragraphs give away how the game is played.
I think many people who frequent this site would agree: Tonypa is one of our favorite casual game designers. Grow Word, his submission to Casual Gameplay's second competition exhibits many of the characteristics that we have come to love about Tonypa's games: it's elegant, understated, and easy to learn but hard to master.
Grow Word is very similar to a cryptogram, a ciphered puzzle in which each letter stands for another letter. In lieu of letters, Tonypa provides us with white squares against a stark black background. When solved correctly, the top group of squares spells out a phrase containing the word "grow." The bottom row of squares each correspond to a letter present in the solution, sort of like a blank version of Crossword. For each level, the game cycles through all the letters found in the solution, and your job is to figure out where to put each one.
Confused yet? Play the first level and you'll get the idea in no time, I promise.
If you've never done cryptograms before, or have found them too intimidating, here are some tips:
- The word "grow" is always present in these puzzles
- Look for one-letter words. Those are usually "a" or "I".
- Look for double letters.
- Letter frequency is important—if there's a spot that lights up only one letter in the solution, then that letter is probably going to be fairly uncommon like q or v. Conversely, if a spot lights up a whole bunch of letters, then try something like e or t.
- You won't usually solve a level on your first time through, or even your second or third. Even if your tries all look like gobbledygook, give it another shot. Cryptograms are usually solved quickly once you get a few letters right, and your second-to-last attempt may look nothing like your final solution.
Analysis: Grow Word certainly embodies the Grow theme of this competition in a pleasantly unexpected way: wordplay. If you're a cryptogram buff, try out this neat implementation; I think you'll be pleased. The graphics are in the simple style we've come to expect from Tonypa and work well—there's nothing to distract you from the task of solving these puzzles. Don't turn your speakers up - there isn't any sound, even when you might expect there to be a satisfying "click." One caveat: although the quotes all make sense, they are not all common phrases. It's not a bad thing, but just something to be aware of.
My main complaint is the lack of saved progress. The puzzles can take some time to complete, and if you want to leave and try again later, you have to leave your browser open or go through all of the first puzzles again as there is no save button and the game does not automatically save your progress. Aside from that, Grow Word is yet another solid casual game crafted by Tonypa.
The first time I picked up Grow Word I blazed through the first puzzle thinking "Yay! This is going to be great!" ...only to arrive at the second puzzle and stopping dead in my tracks. The game held its position firm and refused to budge an inch for me. It wasn't until I finally decided to tackle it with a pencil and paper did I finally make progress with it, and the reward of accomplishment was sweet.
My only criticisms about the game are the rather steep difficulty curve of the puzzle sequence, and the interface constraint of forcing the player to choose each letter in a fixed sequence. It would have been nice to see a more gradual slope toward more difficult puzzles, thus easing the player into the gameplay. The second puzzle is so very difficult for someone just getting started with the game that many are likely to give up, move on, and never look back. And by forcing the player to enter letters in alphabetic order moves the gameplay from computer interface to pencil and paper—at least for me it did—which somewhat defeats the purpose of playing the game on a computer to begin with.
But despite these minor complaints, Grow Word is a creative interpretation of the "grow" theme and a welcome addition to the collection of games we received for the competition. It is uniquely challenging and gratifying (if you persevere), and its elegant simplicity is a quality that we have come to expect, and to cherish, from one of our favorite casual game designers. Cheers, Tonypa! =)