Review: Scrabble Tools (DSiWare)

Hey, a Scrabble dictionary! And some other junk, too.

After a solid vanilla version of the main game and a less-than-great spin-off, EA and Hasbro's third DSiWare outing of the popular board game comes in the form of Scrabble Tools. It's not so much about playing as it is about improving how you play.

The application bundles two useful tools along with three potentially helpful training exercises. Finally included in a Scrabble release is a full searchable dictionary, which for some people might justify a purchase in and of itself. The other tool is Word Finder, which helps you pick your best available move based on your letter rack and what's on the board.

As for exercises, Scrabble Tools brings with it Vocabulary Training, Pattern Recognition and Score Strategy. The former comes in two stages: the first gives you a word's definition and one clue, asking you to fill out the remainder using what's in your letter rack in the 90-second time limit, and the second has you make as many two-letter words as possible during another 90 seconds. Pattern recognition gives you a full letter rack with which to make a bunch of words on a time limit; the left screen shows how many are possible and their length. Score Strategy is another two-parter. In phase one, the empty seven-tile playing field includes special squares like double word/letter score, and you try to form words that best take advantage of them. For phase two, a few are spelled out on the regular game board and you again try to form words for maximum pointage.

Sounds well and good, no? As it turns out, each one is and isn't. The dictionary has the most potential unless you only play Scrabble on your DSi, in which case Tools is useless during play for obvious reasons. The same issue plagues Word Finder too; unless you're in the middle of a game, you probably won't turn to it, and if your main method of play is Scrabble Classic on DSi then you can't use it to look up words without having to obnoxiously switch between the two programs. It might prove useful when playing the real board game, but good luck finding an opponent that's okay with you essentially cheating. Maybe it'd come in handy if you play a lot of online Scrabble or something.

The training tools can come in handy if only to learn obscure words (we will now do everything in our power to play "zarf"), but a few things keep them from reaching their full potential. For one, a lot of the time you'll probably have no idea what word you're trying to spell, which leads to a lot of random letter jumbles that may or may not be fair game (hence "zarf"). And if you skip or fail an exercise, you never find out what the troublesome word was and thus won't learn it. Another issue is the timer: with only 90 seconds (60 in Score Strategy) to solve a stream of puzzles, beginners will have a tough time taking anything away from it all since you need a chunk of time just to get a lay of the land. There's no way to fiddle with the clock either, so a lot of times your learning experience ends up as wham-bam-take a hike.

Conclusion

Scrabble Tools tries to be educational, but its method of teaching is so slapdash that you'll probably come away with only a few more random words for your vocabulary. The dictionary is welcome, but should have just been included in the other two DSiWare releases where it would have been more directly beneficial. If you're a diehard Scrabble player or just need to have an official dictionary in digital form, then this might be alright, but everyone else need not apply.

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