With all the sudoku games that have hit the DSi Shop since the service launched last April, it's nice to occasionally see a pen-and-paper puzzle game for DSiWare that doesn't involve numbers. In Extreme Hangman, Gamelion has taken the time-honored word-guessing game and turned it into something a little more interesting. Where before you were merely hoping to save your stick-man from the gallows, now you're guessing to save him from zombies, erasure, or worse.
In Single Play mode, you'll choose from any of 13 available categories for the game to pull words from, including Movies, Grammy Winners and Synonyms. The top screen displays all of your relevant information: a short clue, a line of blanks, the number of letters you've missed, how many hints you've taken, and of course the stick-man you'll be defending during the round. He'll stand in a setting the game chooses at random, whether it be a street full of zombies or in front of a firing squad, and wait for your first guess.
The letters of the alphabet are all laid out for you on the touchscreen, along with "Hint" and "Pause" buttons. Guess a letter correctly to have it pop up in the blanks beneath the clue and watch the stick-man avoid certain doom, but guess incorrectly to see him narrowly cheat death. Six incorrect guesses spell disaster for your stick-man, and beware: tapping the Hint button counts as a Miss even though the game will fill in a random letter for you. If you've only got one Miss left, you will no longer be able to use any of your remaining Hints.
Upon winning or losing a round, once you've seen the stick-drama play out before you, you're off to the Stats screen. Here, you're shown your win and guess percentages, your highest win and loss streaks, and your current active streak. You're also awarded a rating title depending on your performance — Rap Star, First Lady or Professor, for example. How some of these titles coincide with your stats is anyone's guess; which you would rather be depends on your point of view, really.
Challenge Mode allows you to play a game of hangman against a friend. To start, Player 2 enters a secret word into the game and hands the DSi back to Player 1. Player 1 must then guess the word. Successful or not, once the round is over, it's Player 1's turn to enter a secret word and have Player 2 guess it. The DSi is traded back and forth in this manner until one player manages to guess three words correctly. If the score is tied, the game will continue until finally one player wins and the other loses their round during a rotation. This two-player mode could just as easily be played on paper, but at least you're not killing trees and you also get to share a few giggles with a friend over the suffering stick-men.
The only real problem with this game crops up early on: each time you've picked a category to play, the game takes about 7-10 seconds to load your round for you. Considering this is a game meant for short, quick sessions of time-killing play, the fact that you have to wait for everything to load all the time is a bit odd. The game will still spend a fair amount of time loading things for you even if you dive right back into the same category after winning a round, but your patience with the loading times will be rewarded with plenty of good old-fashioned word-guessing fun long after the novelty of animated stick-men has worn off.
The music of Extreme Hangman involves the sounds of synthesized instruments featured in endlessly repeating loops. It's upbeat and as lighthearted as the rest of the game, though the sound of the flute is far too loud against the lower sounds of plucked strings while you're changing up settings in the menus. The graphics are a mix of polished backgrounds, smooth fonts, and wiggly line-art animations that look like something straight out of a Flipnote. The stick-figures do have their charm, even when they're being shot and killed, but to be quite honest, for a game with "extreme" in the title, the animations aren't terribly outrageous or anything. Amusing, yes, but you'll have seen worse in an episode of Tom and Jerry.
At its core, Extreme Hangman is just a digital hangman game with little animated stick-dudes. Watching their antics is fun for a while, but gradually you'll find yourself paying more attention to the actual game at hand, which isn't bad — in fact, loading times aside, it's perfect for doctors' offices, car trips, or any other short periods of time where you don't want to get fully involved in a longer game. Those who just barely eked their way through English class may want to skip this one, but anyone with a decent grasp of vocabulary should be more than able to get their 200 points' worth out of this time-waster.