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WordPop & 9-Men's-Morris for Palm review
Posted on 22-Jul-2004 07:30 by James Shiell. | Tags Filed under: Reviews.

The people at Smart Box Design must be blessed with the gift of the gab, as they convinced Mauricio to give me not one, but two games to review! But it wasn’t all fun and games, as one of them is a rarity among Palm games – it actually forces you to not just think, but learn. And given the best selling Palm game remains Bejewelled, a game that requires more than clicking is a pleasant change.

116645 WordPop reminds me of a game that popped (no pun intendend) up many years ago called Boggle. The object is to remove the lettered tiles by forming words. The longer the words and the rarer the letters involved, the higher your score will end up. To make it easier they offer 3 difficultly levels, the lower levels offering a number of wildcard tiles, representing the letter of your choice. Clear the board and you advance to the next round – easier than it sounds!

The first thing I check with any word game is vocabulary – as a British Kiwi I have big problems speaking Amerenglish. Smart Box were not just kind enough to send me the word list, but they responded very quickly to my query and followed up afterwards to ensure it has unzipped correctly. This is superb service and a joy to see. As for the list itself, they’ve obviously put a lot of work into it. The only word I couldn’t find was "loo", which is hardly a large omission. Further, they feature both US and English spellings, including some of the lesser used spellings such as "connexion". The only downside of this excellent list is it takes up a reasonable amount of space - ~1100Kb with the long-word list installed. However it does run perfectly from an expansion card, so this shouldn’t be a large problem for owners of modern devices. They also offer a low-resolution version, with a correspondingly lower file size.

Nice graphics

The game itself is surprisingly addictive and of high quality. The graphics are polished and attractive, the interface is clear and well laid out and the game-play is addictive enough that I’ve given up on Cubis briefly. You can construct words using letters licked by at least one corner. The selected letters are displayed at the top, changing from blue to black when the letters match a word. Once it matches you can clear the word (and gain the points it offers) by clicking a button. There’s also an undo button, for those who feel they’ve made a terrible mistake. Your bonus tiles are displayed along the right and these can be placed in any empty board square. And best of all, well written instructions on both game-play and scoring are available from the menu.

Building a word

Once you’ve completed a game a high score is maintained for each difficulty level, as well as a list of the best scoring words. I did encounter one oddity at this point however – to end the game you must manually click on a button. It would be kind of handy if the game would automatically end if no more words could be created.

WordPop high scores

The only major omission appears to be audio support. There are no sound effects or music, and it feels kind of odd having come from some of Astraware’s all singing titles. Some tasteful clicks and the like when selecting and clearing titles would not go amiss.

As for stability, the game worked almost flawlessly. I managed to get a small bug where the bottom of the interface (2 or 3 pixels) was not drawn when I flipped from 320x320 to 320x480, but it doesn’t interfere with any game-play elements. The game doesn’t offer any extra support for those with non-square screens in any case, so I doubt this will affect anyone other than fussy reviewers.

And while it isn’t directly game related, I was very impressed that their website showed all prices by default in NZ dollars (I have my browser locale set to en-NZ). Its a little touch, but very handy!

All in all, it’s a great way to fill in time on the bus, and a level more intellectual than Bejewelled and the like. There’s a demo available, and at $14.95 it’s well worth the money.

They also sent along their implementation of 85447 9 Men’s Morris, also known as Merrelles, Mühle and Mill, a capture and defend strategy game. It’s a simple looking game, but proves to required somewhat more strategy that you’d think. You have to place your pieces to make "mills" (three pieces in a row, horizontally or vertically) and then capture your opponents pieces. Luckily they’ve provided 5 levels of difficulty, including an introductory training level, with automatic promotion as your game improves. There are also well written instructions and a guide on strategy available from the menu.

They also feature sound in this offering. Although fairly simple beeps and the like, it certainly adds to the game. It also respects the system sound settings, a feature I wish applied to all Palm software. And the graphics retain the quality of WordPop – there’s minimal animation, but it’s clean and aesthetically pleasing. In the place of a high score chart we have a statistics page, showing games won/lost on each level. And while it starts out simple enough, you’ll be loosing some before long. And you’ll probably return from defeat trying even harder, as it’s more than a little addictive.

9 Men's Morris


I have but one complaint - there isn’t an undo feature. While you can argue it adds to the game-play to leave one out, it’s very handy when you’re playing on an unstable surface (like Wellington’s quality buses). But it’s a minor annoyance, no more.

It is also $14.95 and takes up a reasonable 190Kb on your device, but doesn’t offer a smaller version for low-resolution devices.

In conclusion, these are both well presented, well written and fun to play games, and if you’re looking for something beyond mindless pattern recognition I’d highly recommend that you download the trials and give them a go.

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