It's not uncommon to detest the idea of a video game designed to educate. This may sound like a huge generalisation, but take a moment to consider a time when you played even a mildly educational computer game. Maybe it was a complete mistake on your behalf, or somehow was a sense of relief from your regular schedule. Either way, it likely did not entertain using entirely the same methods a traditional video game would. This is because this type of game is part of the a wider educational trend of re-tooling digital entertainment for learning purposes; also falling under the infamous "edutainment" genre.
While the trend of loathing such a concept continues, many developers and publishers over the years have been able to successfully tap this market, and in a number of cases garner mass appeal. Nintendo's very own Brain Training series partially falls under this category. Training the mind with educational but fun exercises on a daily basis. Letter Quest, developed by Bacon Bandits and published by Digerati, also nails the rarely seen fun side of these types of games.
Letter Quest Remastered, a revised version of 2014's Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey, is very much an educational wordplay experience. However, due to the nature of its design it's more generally just an entertaining video game. Thanks to the unique blend of Scrabble and role-playing mechanics, the educational aspects of Letter Quest quickly become an afterthought.
The task in Letter Quest is to help two charming grim reapers, Grimm and Rose, slay an army of monsters, ghosts, big bosses and even evil bunnies using the powers of words. The skeletal protagonists are armed with only a simple tile grid, featuring a letter on each tile. Using this tool and knowledge of the English language - or a dictionary, a thesaurus or even Google - Grimm and Rose must work their way through cute cartoon castles, graveyards and other typically themed medieval locations defeating any foe that stands in their way.
Letter Quest manages to ascend above the average word tile game thanks to the built in turn-based role-playing mechanics. On the top half of the screen action sequences visibly play out. Here you can see the turn-based fight against various enemies and health bars depleting. The Wii U GamePad mirrors the game play on the big screen with the assistance of the stylus and touch screen, and there's also Pro Controller support which is a nice addition. The bottom half of the screen is allocated to the tile grid, character and word descriptions. The layout and menus in Letter Quest are for most parts neatly organised and easy to access.
The focus of each level in the game is to defeat a series of enemies, collect gems to buy new power-ups and gain experience to increase each item's power. It's a rinse and repeat formula but a highly addictive one. These items include upgrades such as improved armour and health to increase your chances of success in battle. There are also special spell books to unlock, which allow more damage to be dealt when certain requirements are met. This is not to mention quests which have tasks such as using the letter "E" twenty times, defeating a certain number of monsters or taking so much damage and surviving. The lists of quests go on, and there are a nice mixture of general role-playing and word orientated tasks to fulfil.
The tile grid acts as the primary focal point for the player; here time will be spent forming words with the available letters on offer. The stakes are raised as progress through each level is made, with three and four letter words simply not enough to defeat the last enemy blocking progress. Adding to the challenge are an assortment of tiles that place restrictions on the letters that can be used. These include poison tiles which need to be cleared immediately, spiked tiles and other tiles that are locked off completely. These restrictions encourage the player to be more creative.
Each tile on the grid has a rarity value attached to it; less common letters such as "Z" have gold ratings, whereas more common letters are silver and bronze. There are also words that offer extra points and damage if they are a part of the next word constructed - gold words mixed with bonuses such as double letters, or six or seven word letter buffs deliver far greater damage to an opponent than an easy to assemble three or four letter word. The overall power of these letters can be further enhanced with spell books or via armour and weapon upgrades. The role-playing elements seamlessly overlap this core game play.
The built-in dictionary in Letter Quest exceeds 192,000 English words. Regardless of whether the user is familiar with the word entered or not, a descriptive example in noun or verb form is displayed. There's also a profanity filter which does a good job at blocking out the majority of naughty words. The cycle of inputting a word, collecting gems, upgrading gear and then doing it all again is very satisfying and definitely prolongs each play session. There are moments where the game has a real sense of flow, and this all falls on the player's own ability to construct creative words with the current set of tiles available.
If the normal difficulty of the game wasn't already enough of a mental workout, this remastered version features a new Endless mode. This mode enables players to grind countless levels while unlocking many cosmetic upgrades and enhancements including candy cane scythes, additional tile themes, a range of quality cartoon backdrops and more appropriately themed music that has a sense of mystery, fear and adventure about it - resonating well with the main journey. Letter Quest also includes detailed statistics tracking every aspect of game progress - from the amount of times each letter has been used, to damage dealt. If that wasn't enough, there are also built-in achievements, so on top of the regular quests there is plenty of content to sustain players over a long period of time.
Letter Quest Remastered is admittedly not going to bode well with every Wii U owner out there, but if you're seeking a title that channels the basic fun of classic tile games such as Scrabble, and at the same time has the potential to educate and entertain a wider audience, there is arguably no better game available on the eShop right now. Letter Quest is filled to the brim with content including a stack of levels, a long list of quests and achievements, and many unlocks to enjoy. By the time you complete Grimm's journey, you'll be a qualified wordsmith.