The word "epic" sure gets thrown around a lot these days. The vast cosmos is epic, the unfathomable depths of the ocean are epic, but so is this sandwich I just ate, you guys! SO EPIC! Perhaps some of the meaning has been lost, but even the crankiest purists would have to admit that Epic Word Search Collection certainly lives up to the implied sense of scale that the term suggests.
It's a gigantic series of puzzles that pose a significant challenge to even the most eagle-eyed spotter, with each of the five main categories taking a suggested ten hours to complete. If you're ridiculously into word searches then you're probably already sold on the idea, but does this 3DS eShop title succeed in appealing to a broader audience?
Expanding on Word Search By POWGI, Lightwood Games has kept the focus on creating tight, enjoyable puzzles that feel satisfying to complete. Each one is themed, and broken up into several smaller categories within that theme. For example; the Epic Movies puzzle features representation from Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Harry Potter and more. Think of each word search as a gigantic grid, far too large to fit on a single screen, and so you'll be scrolling around using the Circle Pad in order to find everything. We were actually taken aback by the intimidating size at first, but colour-coding each section is a smart design choice that helps the player keep track.
A list of words is displayed on the top screen, and can be found within the labyrinthine jungle of letters as horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines. They can appear in any direction too, so clearing your word list is no easy task. Part of the fun comes from the references themselves - like finding Hamlet in the Lion King section, or discovering that Quidditch is included within the Sport puzzle - which helps keep things a bit more interesting.
Controls are smooth and responsive, with speedy load times also allowing you to jump quickly between puzzles whenever you like. Selecting words with a simple drag of the stylus works well, and pressing 'A' will bring up an overall view of the mega-sized puzzle so you can follow your progress so far. Players can check how many words are left to find in a particular section, and even share their completion statistics using StreetPass integration.
There are very few bells and whistles included with this package, so don't expect much in the way of presentation. The puzzle select screen has a few colourful images and fonts to catch your eye, but for the majority of gameplay you'll be dissecting columns of jumbled letters anyway. A looping piano track plays continuously (and gratingly) in the background, so it wasn't long before we reached for the volume slider either. No fancy pants animations here, just take a heaping helping of WORDS.
This simplified approach makes for a wealth of content, however, as long as you actually like completing word searches in the first place. There's a distinct and enduring satisfaction to chipping away at such a large puzzle over time, completing more and more with each attempt, so the 3DS is the perfect handheld medium. It's a great little title for travel, killing time in a waiting room, or just taking a few moments to unwind.
With a title such as this, you'll have probably made your mind up already. It's a concept with narrow appeal by its very nature, so if you aren't already able to enjoy word searches, then this won't do much to convince you otherwise. That being said, Epic Word Search Collection offers up hours of content that we're still working through, which is a credit to its wide range of topics and solid design. Chasing that 100% completion ranking is an addictive pursuit, and playing in short bursts is tremendously calming. Just make sure you have your own music playing in the background!