Word games are rather less common these days than in their most prolific period, but if you're going to build one the Wii U seems like prime real estate for doing so. uWordsmith takes advantage of the GamePad to create a simple yet snappy style of wordplay, but some setbacks make it less than letter perfect.
Three modes exist in the game, but the main crux of each is the same. A photo appears on the TV, accompanied by a selection of letter tiles on the GamePad; you arrange these tiles to spell the word implied by the image within a time limit, and you're good to go. The faster you answer, the more points you earn, but the game ends if the clock ever runs out on a word. Three difficulty levels exist for each mode, with higher difficulties throwing more dummy letters into the mix; a letter might also already appear in the answer field, but may be wrong and needs to be thrown back.
The GamePad functions brilliantly as a letter slinger - the response is instant and easily controlled, whether you're bringing letters down or swapping them within the word you're constructing. It almost never feels like controls are at fault for a loss; it's more often a brain cramp that has you staring blankly at the screen until 2 seconds before the timer's up, then desperately tossing letters into a salad of failure.
The presentation has a bit of a retro feel, yet is also bubbly and colourful. The sound is also nice, with a driving gameplay track and smooth menu music that is reminiscent of Tappingo. The photos themselves are of a consistently high quality as well, and represent the words associated with them commendably. There may be a trip-up in understanding what a few photos are asking for (e.g. it's a skateboarder, but what is he doing?), yet the meanings tend to become fairly obvious once things are figured out.
This unfortunately brings us to the biggest downfall of uWordsmith: you're going to have plenty of opportunities to figure words out because you'll be seeing the same photos pretty often. About 150 photos are attributed in the game credits; even if some more didn't need to be accredited, it is still a woefully small collection for this type of game.
The effect of having such a shallow word pool is felt least in Arcade mode, which draws from all the images, but it won't take many games to see repeats pop up. Challenge mode also doesn't help the cause here, as it splits the photos up into categories such as Food and Sport, tasking you with identifying them all. It essentially feels like having sets of flashcards for the photos, making them all the easier to remember when you inevitably see them elsewhere. You unfortunately have to play Challenge mode to unlock the more creative Mosaic mode. This throws a slight twist into the formula, making each photo into an attractive blend of pixels that steadily becomes sharper as time passes. It makes things slightly more challenging, but playing any of the modes for a bit still fills your head with enough answers to gain a big advantage in little time.
uWordsmith can be played in multiplayer, but players will have to take turns. It could be good for pulling out once in a great while if you have the right crowd for it, but finding a way to engage all of the players at once would be outstanding, especially for a mode like Mosaic. And then yes, sadly, the same photo one player had can repeat for another player, which drives a penpoint into the feeling of fairness.
uWordsmith has the foundations set in place to be a fun little game for word wranglers on the Wii U. It's friendly, easy to pick up, and can actually be fast-paced and challenging on the hardest difficulty the first several or so rounds. Regrettably, though, the drought in the game's dictionary hits it right in the core. With a much larger collection of words and maybe a couple more ways to play, uWordsmith could be a very solid, brain-based party game. As it stands now, however, its lack of vocabulary is a telling blow that makes it hard to find the words to recommend it.