Word searches, anagrams and crosswords are all very well, but these games do new and fresh things with such traditional frameworks.
Alphabear: Word Puzzle Game
This one’s all about getting the biggest bears. Use letters to fashion words on the tiled grid and bears appear in the spaces left behind. With enough space, they become huge, giving you massive bonus scores once your game ends.
The main danger comes from move countdown timers on every letter tile. When one hits zero, the letter turns to stone, potentially thwarting further bear expansion.
The main game is frequently comical, as your weirdly tall and thin or wide and squat bears grumble and fidget while you figure out how to use a selection of tiles that appear to only make words you’d otherwise get from mashing a keyboard with your head.
There are drawbacks in the game’s weird freemium system, which includes energy timers (‘honey’) and baffling collectable bear power-ups. But the former can be removed with a £4.99 IAP if you can’t wait for a furry fix.
£free + IAP | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Alphabear
This game comes across like a politically literate tirade against censorship. An Orwellian adventure story told through one half of an increasingly mangled email exchange, it also happens to be a word game based around decoding blocks of text.
You play the part of a downtrodden citizen of a dimly sketched dystopia, receiving messages with parts blacked out by censors. All you have to do is work out the missing words - easy at first, but Blackbar eventually taunts, tangling and weaving its internal logic until your head hurts.
It can be frustrating. You may find yourself baffled by a single word required to unlock the next screen. But the rewarding nature of cracking each puzzle along with the clever, funny storyline makes it all _________.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Blackbar
Because Letterpress’s approach is unique - sort of a clever mashup of Boggle and Strategery - it takes some time to explain the rules. Once you get them down, though, this word game (with a healthy serving of strategy) is alarmingly addictive.
On your turn, you can use any of the letters in a five-by-five grid to build a word. After you submit your word, the tiles you used turn blue. Then it’s your opponent’s turn to make a word. The tiles he or she uses to spell a word turn pink.
As you play, then, some tiles will go from blue to pink to blue again, if you and your opponent keep spelling words with the same letters, but if you box in a blue tile with other blue tiles, it turns a darker shade of blue and stays that way. Once all the tiles have been used (or after both players skip a turn), the game ends. Whichever player turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the victor.
Fans of word games won’t be disappointed. Letterpress is seriously fun.
£free/£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Letterpress
Although half the world’s addicted to Words With Friends, Scrabble is the daddy of crossword boardgames - and remains the better game. You get the familiar (and best) layout, with triple-word tiles at the edge of the board, and other bonuses exploding out from the centre. Then it’s down to you and an opponent to battle it out, making best use of those special tiles to rack up a high score.
There’ve been quite a few incarnations of Scrabble on iOS - and, frankly, they’ve been variable. Right now, we’re going through a good patch. Scrabble for iPhone and iPad looks great and has modes for playing against the computer, online, or by passing your device between several people. And if you’re fed up waiting for chums to take their turns, there’s always the chat system to turn to - or a speed play mode, which flings up penalties if anyone dawdles.
At first, SpellTower comes across a lot like a wordsearch, albeit one in which you can snake your line back and forth as you please. This gives you the potential to drag out intricate pathways that form massive words, resulting in huge points. But then the letters disappear, gravity makes a sudden appearance and any letters left in the air abruptly plummet downwards. Planning out maximising your score from the initial board is therefore rather tough.
But SpellTower’s not done, because that’s just Tower Mode. Beyond that are modes that have the stack of letters grow with each move, along with pitting you against the clock and tiles that demand a minimum word size. Rush Mode is particularly tense, with you trying frantically to clear letters as towers of them edge closer to the game over line. On iPhone and iPad alike, it’s the best solo word game on iOS.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download SpellTower
Zach Gage apparently has a thing for rethinking classic puzzle games from the world of print. SpellTower is a word search crossed with a well-based puzzle game, and Really Bad Chess subverts the chess puzzles you sometimes still find lurking in newspapers. TypeShift is in similar territory, only this game has hurled all the component bits of crosswords up into the air to see what would happen.
What you end up with is a grid of letters that you manipulate by dragging columns up and down. If a word is found in the centre row, its tiles are coloured in. The aim is to use every tile on the board - and as quickly as possible, if you’re inclined towards bragging about your brainpower online.
There are set packs of puzzles and a daily entry that toughens as the week goes on. The star of the show, though, is the clue puzzle, which doesn’t allow you to find any old words. Instead, you get a list of obtuse clues, and must find a word associated with each. The end result is a game that really does feel like a perfect combination of old and new. For free, you get a small selection of puzzles to try (and the daily challenge); extra packs are available via IAP.
£free + IAP | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download TypeShift
At its core, W.E.L.D.E.R. is a word search. You create words of four or more letters by swapping nearby tiles. If, for example, you’ve got the letters PUSN lined up, tap S and then N and the two letters change positions, forming PUNS. When this happens, the letters vaporise, earning you points, and any letters above drop down.
The steampunk interface looks very cool, and just as unnecessary-yet-lovely are the ambient sounds that whoosh and tick along in the background. Taken altogether, W.E.L.D.E.R. is addictive, instructive and a pleasure for the senses. If you have the slightest interest in word games, you should own it.
£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download W.E.L.D.E.R.