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Game Info:

Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey
Developed by: Bacon Bandit Games
Released: May 8, 2014 (Developer's Web site), November 20, 2014 (Steam)
Available on: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS X
Genre: Word puzzle / RPG
Number of players: 1
Price: $7.99

The Grim Reaper is hungry. Not for the souls of the living, but for pizza. According to his smartphone, though, the nearest pizza place is through a spooky graveyard, a dangerous forest and a gloomy cave. It shouldn't be too much of an issue, though – after all, Grimm is armed with his trusty scythe... and an expansive vocabulary.

And so begins “Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey,” a whimsical romp that starts in a haunted house and travels through a variety of eerie terrains. The player controls a grim reaper as he passes through the world on his quest for a tasty lunch. Along the way, he needs to battle through ghosts, zombies, killer rabbits and other bizarre creatures. He'll make friends with a creepy old man, a bookworm and a witch, who will sell him items to aid his journey. Although the premise does seem quite dark, the graphics are done in a stylized cartoonish fashion, which makes the main character and his opponents more cute than horrifying.

Grimm wields his scythe to take out his opponents, but the weapon is powered through words, rather than his arms. The top half of the screen shows the action, while the bottom portion is comprised mainly of a grid of 15 letters. The player can pick out words from these letters in order to launch Grimm's attacks. The longer the word or by using rarer letters, the more damage the attack will inflict. After taking his turn, Grimm's opponent will have a turn to attack back – sometimes with direct damage, but often the attack will affect the letter tiles themselves in a variety of ways. For example, poisoned tiles will damage Grimm if he uses them, and whirlwind tiles cause the letters to change randomly after every turn. This will go back and forth until either Grimm is defeated by losing all his health points or the opponent disappears in a shower of gems. Defeating all the opponents in the level grants Grimm a bunch of gems – which are the in-game currency – and opens the path (or paths) to the next levels.

On occasion, Grimm will encounter a treasure chest. This starts a minigame that plays a lot like “hangman,” where the player needs to guess letters that are in the word. Successfully completing the word opens the chest, which leads to gems or a temporary buff to Grimm's abilities. Failure means the chest is “destroyed,” and Grimm will have to continue without the reward.

Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey
Highlights:

Strong Points: Quick gameplay; inventive concept; cute graphics; expansive dictionary; DRM-free; available for a wide variety of platforms
Weak Points: Animation is sorely lacking; music is choppy
Moral Warnings: Undead featured prominently; players can score points using vulgar or offensive words

Each level can be played repeatedly, and after the first challenge, the player can try two other challenges to the level – a time trial, or an additional challenge which varies from level to level. Often these change the nature of the creatures themselves by making them tougher (e.g. “Only takes damage from words starting with a vowel”) or easier (“Takes double damage from words ending in 's''”). Completing each challenge will earn a gold star, and completing all three will allow the player to run through the level a fourth time, at a harder difficulty, in order to earn a “crystal” star. 

The game does have a few elements of role-playing games mixed in. The player can use the gems that he has gained by completing levels to shop for upgrades to his equipment, potions, status effects, books and more. The books are an interesting factor, because equipping them allows for a variety of effects, based upon which book is used. For example, using the “Heel Me” book will give Grimm a little health every time a letter “E” is used, and one book offers a whopping 60% bonus to damage for every word that uses “QUA.” The player can have up to three books equipped, once all the slots are unlocked, and the books gain experience as the player defeats creatures and completes levels. The more experience a book gets, the bigger the bonus it provides. 

In addition to gems, other items can be unlocked based upon how many stars or words are used. For example, once 30 stars are obtained, the player unlocks “Rose,” a female counterpart to Grimm who wears a red robe and has a tendency to skip between foes. She sports slightly different stats as well – although her attack and dodge skills are higher than Grimm's, she also has lower hit points and less armor. Other than these statistics, the gameplay remains the same. 

The characters of Grimm and Rose are wonderfully animated and fun to watch. However, the same can't be said about their opponents. The creatures they fight remain static and still – the ghost-like enemies don't even offer the stereotypical bobbing motion that is so commonly seen in other video games featuring blob-like cartoon ghosts. The backgrounds also lack animation, other than scrolling along as Grimm makes his way through the level. It would have been nice to see candles flickering, or eyes peeking out from dark shadows in the trees, but the backgrounds don't even offer these. Given how smooth the main characters act, it's actually sad to not see the undead foes acting just as lively as the protagonists. Everything is well drawn and cute, but the lack of animation gives the game a static feel to it.

The music also is nicely done and gives an atmosphere reminiscent of spooky stories and classic video games. However, it isn't terribly memorable, and is pieced together poorly – the music has an abrupt end, and immediately loops back to the beginning of the song in an obvious fashion. The sound effects are sparse, but convey the action well, with little chimes whenever a crystal tile is used (which has additional effects based on the crystal) or a word is spelled that the game recognizes. Voice acting is nonexistent – instead, the story is conveyed through a series of comic strips, which are unlocked as the player completes each of the areas. The final comic strip is unlocked once all the stars have been obtained.

Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 90%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The game is hyped as a combination of a word game and a role-playing game, and with the use of currency to upgrade equipment and gaining experience to enhance books, the elements of a RPG are there. However, there's another aspect from early computer role-playing games that is present that may not be so welcoming – grinding. In order to complete levels, the player will have to go over previous levels repeatedly in order to gain enough money to upgrade equipment or to replenish potions lost due to a challenging battle. After a while, the game does start to feel redundant because of this. After defeating one of the last bosses, an “expert” mode is unlocked which involves starting the game over from the beginning, but considering how much the player had to grind to even get to that point (note – unlocking that mode does not happen at the very end of the initial game!) only the most devoted wordsmiths may be inclined to give it a try.

The dictionary used in the game is rather extensive, and includes rare words that this reviewer has seldom seen. I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the strongest vulgarities in the English language do not register as legitimate words. However, there is an abundance of other words that are valid in the game, many of which could be construed as offensive or sexually obscene. These are words that could be found in almost any dictionary, though, so most children wouldn't be exposed to anything that they probably don't have access to in the first place (and they would have to be deliberately seeking out the words). Each successfully used word includes a definition that appears on the lower half of the screen, but again, it doesn't go into any more detail than what could be found in a dictionary (and often less, due to space limitations).

Aside from potential language issues, the only morally concerning aspect of the game is a heavy abundance of undead creatures. The majority of the opponents are ghosts, with the occasional werewolf and zombie/ghoul thrown in. A witch appears as the potion maker. And, of course, the player is taking the role of the grim reaper. Skulls appear frequently and are even part of the background elements of the lower screen. It's interesting to note that crosses appear several times in the cemetery level, so it's nice to see that Christian iconography hasn't been censored from the game due to political correctness.

The game is available for a variety of platforms, including Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. In addition, purchasing it from the developer's Web site provides a DRM-free copy, as well as the soundtrack, wallpapers and avatars. The game has recently completed the Steam Greenlight program, and is now available through that platform, with achievements and trading cards. In addition, the first few levels – which take place in a haunted house - are free to play, and can be found on the developer's Web site at [url]http://baconbanditgames.com/demos/letterquest[/url]. 

 In addition to the “expert” mode, the game has a lot of incentive to play the game repeatedly. The levels are fairly short, too – most of the time challenges are around 1 ½ minutes – so it can be a fun, casual game to play in order just to kill a bit of time. 

Since the initial release, Bacon Bandits has released a "Remastered" version of the game. In addition to now providing Linux support, this new version seems to address all of the issues that had been previously mentioned. The enemies and allies are now wonderfully animated, flinching and lunging in a comical style. The soundtrack has been completely revamped and is now seamless. Even the elements of grinding seem to have been reduced, as it seems to be simpler to come up with the gems to pay for upgrades. In addition, a new "Endless" mode has been added, allowing a player to see how many enemies he or she can defeat before running out of health. With these inclusions, I have to admit this is probably one of the best single-player word games I have played. Unfortunately, since the Remastered version uses a different game engine, it's presently impossible to take your old game and import it into this edition. If you've completed the original, you'll have to start over from the beginning when you load up the new version. The Remastered edition comes with a slightly higher price tag - $7.99 – but owners of the original received the new version on Steam for free. For those that don't own the game and want a fun word challenge, the higher price is worth every penny. The Steam version also provides different achievements and trading cards than the original as well.

Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey is the first game from Bacon Bandits Games, and although it does show a few flaws, it shows a lot of promise. It's a fun game and a good way to encourage quick thinking and expand vocabulary. It also is available at an attractive price. With a free demo available, it's worth it to try the game for a spell, and maybe even purchase.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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