Review: WordFu (iPhone)

It’s a simple premise: You’re given a few cubes with letters on each side of them, and tasked with spelling as many different words with the letters you have until you run out of time.

Sound familiar? WordFu plays a lot like other word games (TextTwistBookworm) where you’re presented with a set of letters and tasked with building as many words as possible within a time limit. But thanks to some clever twists on a classic formula, a helping of snazzy graphics and some fantastic score-gloating mechanics courtesy of Facebook and Twitter, WordFu spins an old concept into an engaging and exciting iPhone app that’s sure to captivate the wordie in all of us.

WordFu is more than your average on-the-go puzzle game with a kung-fu motif tacked on for good measure. Before the actual game begins, you’re granted a few precious seconds to figure out which letters you want to keep and which you want to change. Simply flicking a cube sends it bouncing wildly around the screen, like a real-world physics demonstration of hitting a wooden die with a five-iron, until it lands with a new side facing up. And if your all-consonant selection left you feeling like you got a raw deal? Just shake the whole phone and try your luck at another set. And thanks to the game’s Scrabble-caliber dictionary, more than 200,000 words are recognized by the game, which leads to very few instances where you’re left cursing at the game for not counting that one word you’re completely sure is real.

Surprisingly, a great deal of the fun to be had in WordFu stems from its audiovisual presentation. Tilting the phone correspondingly shifts your viewpoint onto your letter cubes, giving a really impressive and surreal sense of perspective that can’t really be found on any other handheld. And every time a word is entered, the game emits a satisfying “wooaaahaa!” kung-fu exclamation. It’s good, cheesy fun, and it fits the game’s casual and inviting overtones perfectly.

Any game that’s this much fun and costs a mere $0.99 is hard to pass up, but thanks to some brilliant additional features it becomes a must-buy for any gamer on the go. WordFu features a simple leaderboard system that tracks your top games played on the phone, but it also offers a quick way to share your results with your friends through Facebook and Twitter. Simply enter your login information once, and after each game you can automatically publish your scores through the omniscient magic of social networking.

It’s worth noting that I first discovered WordFu after seeing former Newsweek videogame writer N’Gai Croal posting his scores to his Twitter account. It’s certainly some clever marketing on ngmoco’s part, and I’m guilty of uploading my best scores as well. But somehow, I think Mr. Croal’s mind-boggling score of 5,077 might be more than I could ever hope to achieve.

But hey, it’s an iPod too, so at least I can listen to “Eye of the Tiger” while I’m knee-deep in my WordFu training regimen.

Note: WordFu is currently available on the iPhone App Store for $2.99. It was purchased for review when it was temporarily priced at $0.99, but the author would like to assert that the game is still very much worth the current price of admission.

Recommended For:

  • Word-game enthusiasts eager to embiggen the ol’ vocabulary with a perfectly cromulent app
  • Fans of competitive social network word games like Lexulous who enjoy bragging about that one incredible nine-letter bingo they got
  • Anyone looking for a fun pass-it-around game to share with friends in the car or at the coffee shop

Not Recommended For:

  • People who aren’t Twitter or Facebook users; score-sharing is a big part of what makes WordFu so replayable
  • Anyone who’s not comfortable with the English language — WordFu only supports an English dictionary so far