January 16, 2012 9 Comments
Being a boring person, I love Scrabble. I play it with my boyfriend. I play it online. I play it on Xbox. I play it on my iPhone. I would even watch tournaments if they showed them on ESPN. Sure, it’s not for everyone. People who like exciting things or have lives usually avoid it. Being an introvert, I’m just hard-wired to love this kind of thing. So when I saw Lexiv, I nearly exploded excrement into my undergarments. I mean, it’s Scrabble mixed with Sim City. If they could have shoehorned Dungeons & Dragons in there somehow, it would have been the most introvertiest thing in human existence.
Not that I ever played Dungeons & Dragons. I do have some dignity left. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go change my underwear.
Where was I?
Lexiv. So you’re given a rack of letters and you have to build words. Those words make up a city. Unlike Scrabble, parts of speech come into play. Nouns act as residential zones for people to live in. Verbs are the commercial zones where people work. Adjectives and Adverbs boost the productivity of those zones. Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections all fall under the “Etc” category and act as wildcards that boost everything. And there’s nobody reading this anymore, is there? Bleepy bloopy blongo blooper. Yep, you’re all gone. Either that was enough to sell you on the game or you heard the term “parts of speech” and fell into a coma. Sigh.
Well, I wish you had stuck around, because I do have to sort of pick the game apart now. I really did have a good time with Lexiv, but it does need tweaking on several levels. Just a quick annoyance to start with: I hate that the game makes the word “Lexiv” the starting point. V is probably the most difficult letter to work with in Scrabble, or Book Worm, or various other word building games. I’ve spoken with professional Scrabble players (yes, they exist) who would have no problem with the letter being removed from the game. But in Lexiv, it’s the first thing you have to deal with, every single round. That sucks.
The game also fundamentally stifles creativity by forcing you to quickly build specific word types. You pretty much have to get a noun and a verb on the table right off the bat. That especially sucks when you have a rack of letters that would allow you to play them all (bingo as it’s known in Scrabble), but you have no use currently for that type of word. You also don’t instantly get the letters replaced for you. You have to wait maybe several intervals before you will have a full rack. There are boosts that can help with this. When you reach level two, you get an item that allows you to trade your current rack of any size for a full rack of fresh letters. You also later get the opportunity to buy letters to fill up your rack faster. Of course, your city has to be cash-flow positive to get there, and that can be tricky. In order to get resources up, you have to be able to boost the zones you have. Simply put, in a game that is based mostly around the luck of the draw, it’s not always possible.
There’s roughly 8 to 12 hours of missions to play through, some of which use conventional Sim City themes like city defense. Others require you to build over specific spots on the board to win. The variety is large enough to keep things fresh through-out the playtime. Then again, if you are into this sort of thing you probably would never get bored anyway. I am into this sort of thing, and I didn’t get bored.
I did run into a few technical issues. And by a few, I mean so many that it basically leaves the game broken. When saving to the hard drive, the game had a degree of skipiness that I have never experienced in a XBLIG before. Sometimes a game occasionally stutters, like a CD with a scratch. Lexiv plays more like a CD that has had industrial-grade sandpaper taken to it. In the early stages, it’s annoying. Just a few stages later, the game is completely unplayable. The developer is aware of this issue and is working on a patch. Until then, placing the game’s save file on your memory card seems to clear up the problem in its entirety. I realize that is not an option for everyone. If that’s the case, sorry, I have nothing for you except second-hand word that a patch is in the works.
The mechanics of the game are not completely solid. Scrolling is overly difficult and losing the cursor is too easy. There’s also a really annoying night-and-day cycle thingie that makes visibility of the board pretty difficult. It’s among the dumbest ideas I’ve seen a good game have on this service. What kind of fucking moron would say “hey everyone, let’s play Scrabble with the lights turned out! No flashlights! You won’t be able to see anything! This will be fun!” No, it will be absurd and stupid, just like this gameplay idea was, and you’ll delete him from your Rolodex just as soon as he leaves the room. Finally, the dictionary they used sucked. Just a few quickie examples: I was forced to play “oinking” as a noun, “whim” as a verb, and “techno” isn’t even a legal word despite having been sanctioned by Websters and Oxford for more than a decade. It needs some oinking work.
I’ve been hard on Lexiv, so I should probably make it more clear that I really, really liked this game. It’s so original, yet such an obvious evolutionary step for the game of Scrabble that I’m actually surprised nothing like it has come along. For all of its flaws, which are numerous, I feel the ground work for something exceptional has been laid here. In fact, I think it’s developer really ought to tweak the rules to make it more in line with the actual Scrabble, then place a sales call to Hasbro and license the game to them. I could see this taking off as a licensed product called “Scrabble Cities.” No bullshit, I really could. So if you purchase Lexiv, you’re buying into a game that is fun already, but has the potential to be so much more. I liked it a lot, especially because I could swear the fucking game reads my mind.
240 Microsoft Points sunk my Scrabbleship in the making of this review.
Instead of a normal trailer, I’ve included the developer’s detailed walk-through of the gameplay mechanics, not all of which I covered in this review. If you have eighteen minutes free, it’s worth a look.