Word games are all well and good, but we tend to find ourselves more at the 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown end of the spectrum, rather than being the one who solves every anagram going in a matter of seconds. Still, if life's taught us anything, it's not how good you are, it's who you're playing against that counts - and with new Playlink-powered game Wordhunters promising us the chance to take on our friends and family in a game of wordy wonder on our PS4, all through a handy companion app, we at least fancied our chances.
Turns out, who you're playing against really does matter. Wordhunters is essentially a collection of word based mini-games that lets up to six players duke it out to be the sharpest spelling brain in the box. With a variety of different games to take on, albeit all of which involve having to spell something, it's probably not the best of games if you can't tell your read from your red, but if you've got a group of equally matches players, you'll be in for a close contest.
Although the subject matter may sound fairly limiting, the developers have actually done a really good job of mixing up as many different modes as possible. One asks you to guess if a word is real or made up - something that's sometimes easier said than done, thanks to how convincing its fakes are, until it uses a word you actually know. Others give you a grid, and ask you to find as many words as you possibly can, Boggle style, while one of our favourites (in a love-hate kind of way), Disemvoweled, takes all the vowels out of a word, and asks you to fill them in. Get it right, and get it right first, and you win. Or, you could do like us, and when faced with SMTHNG, which is apparently meant to be "something", you go for something completely different and both get it "wrong".
Some of the games are a lot harder than they sound, too. One of the trickiest ones gives you four words, each broken in half, and asks you to match together the right halves. Sounds easy, but when you're staring at "RUM - PASS" and you can't figure out what it means, it's easier said than done. On the fun side of things, one of our favourites is Find the Combination, a game which gives you a load of blank tiles at the bottom of the screen, and a safe cracking style lock in the middle, with seven or so letters on it. With nothing in the way of a clue, it's up to you to try and basically guess what the word is through trial and error, making this reliably one of the closest games.
However, the problem with Wordhunters is that it feels a bit rough around the edges, and really misses a few tricks. At the end of each round, you're shown an airline style scoreboard that initially shows some words, before flickering away to reveal the scores. Oddly enough, these seem to just be random words, rather than the words you've actually used in the round. In the Boggle style game, too, it'd be nice to know what everyone else had gone for - what their longest words were, what they found that you didn't, but instead it's on to the next game, and a longer-than-it-really-should-be loading time while the pilot woman tells you the same joke for the fifteenth time.
As a Playlink game, you get the usual benefits, like the ability to take a selfie to go with your player profile, but you also have the massive drawback of everything revolving around your phone. That means each player needs to have a phone on them, it needs to have charge, and it needs to be a modern enough phone to be running the app. You might not think this would be much of an issue, but not everyone keeps their phone upgraded on a regular basis, and mid-to-low-range phones aren't always kept up to date with the latest Android. Even old high end phones aren't - my Mom has an old Samsung Galaxy S3 (and no desire to upgrade), and as such, she couldn't run the app. Instead, she had to borrow one of my old (broken) phones I've kept behind as a spare. For a quiz game that ought to be a big hit with families, needing every member of the family to have their own phone can be a big ask.
It also presents a variety of technical issues. For starters, some of the games require you to look down at your phone, and back up at the screen, but it never really tells you when to switch. On the other hand, the app also has a tendency to break, chucking us out of the game completely on more than one occasion, and refusing to let us back in. Some sort of error message would have been nice, but instead, the app just fails without giving you even the slightest hint at why it now can no longer join the game that you were in only a few seconds ago, and which your friends and family are all still in fine.
On another family-related note, it's worth mentioning that you really do need to be good at English to do well at this, and be in with any hope of winning. If you're playing with kids, or anyone who's just not that good at spelling, they're simply not going to stand a chance, and there's no way of levelling the playing field in any way - no boosts, no easier puzzles for the little ones, and no penalties for mom and dad. While there is a selection of three power ups, everyone gets the same amount - and even then, they're awkward to say the least. One claims it'll give you extra time to get started ahead of your friends, but in practice, it either gives you no time at all, or it all but wins you the round. On some games, you can't really have a head start, so you end up basically just throwing your power-up away (you have to choose to use the power-up before you see what round you're playing), while on other games, it'll give you a head start *per question*, meaning by the time anyone else gets to take their turn, you've already solved the puzzle.
With a group of like-minded, and fairly similarly able friends, Wordhunters could be worth a look, although even then, at £15.99 it feels pretty pricey for what it is (especially as you can't choose a particular round to play if you have a favourite/least favourite). However, you really do need that group of similarly able friends, as with no way of levelling the playing field, any attempt to play this as a family is going to end either in disaster, or with mom and dad having to choose to flunk every round.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4