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Review: Bookworm Adventures

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Ages 6 and up
Genre: Puzzle / RPG
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2009
Review Published On: August 27th, 2016
Played on: Martha

Available from:

No longer available :(

Save System:

Your progress is saved in your profile whenever you leave the game. This includes how far you're progressed in the current battle.

Summary of
Major Issues:

The biggest issue found in this game is that many of the enemies Lex encounters are monsters from various mythologies. This includes a trip through the Underworld (ie, Hell).

Additionally, at one point Lex gets lost in the desert, leading to a hallucination filled experience.

Screenshots

[view screenshot]
Meeting a Phantom in the Netherworld

[view screenshot]
That outfit is quite impractical

[view screenshot]
Guess the word, win a prize



Game Overview

Bookworm was one of Popcap's more popular games, so naturally they would give it a sequel. But, instead of an upgraded sequel like they did with the Bejeweled series, they changed it into to a more story-driven adventure and added features to make it more like an RPG.

The story opens with Lex quietly reading in the Grand Library. Suddenly, Codex, the librarian, called him over to see something important. Holding out a book, he showed Lex an alarming sight: the words were vanishing off the pages! Moments later they were replaced by a plea for help, signed by the oracle Cassandra. Using his magic pen, Codex sent Lex into the storybook worlds to save Cassandra, discover what dastardly scheme is afoot, and stop whoever is behind it.

In order to fight the villains of each storybook, the gameplay changed in several ways. True to the RPG style, each battle involves Lex and some enemy trading attacks until one of them runs out of health. After the battle, Lex is completely healed and ready to continue on to the next challenger. There are also a number of buffs and debuffs that both sides can use, and it's vital that you plan to either use them yourself or defend against them.

In the meantime, you're still spelling words using tiles from a grid like you did originally. But unlike the way things worked in the first game, the letters don't need to be next to each other or form a line. Being able to select any tile makes it a lot easier to find the larger words, and this becomes very important because the amount of damage Lex can inflict on an enemy is based on the length and complexity of the word you spelt. By the middle of the first book, you'll have unlocked the ability to use gem tiles. These special tiles have different effects when they are used to spell a word. For example, emerald tiles will heal Lex a little while amethyst tiles will poison an enemy.

Along the way Lex will acquire magical treasures. Equipping these before entering a level allows them to activate and give Lex an edge. Some protect him from debuffs, while others boost the chances of special tiles appearing or the strength of certain key words. You're only allowed to use three of them at a time though, so you'll need to pick wisely.

Lastly, there are several minigames where you can earn extra potions or special powerful tiles. While the potions remain in your inventory until you use them, the tiles will automatically be placed in the letter grid at the start of the next level. This makes them a little less useful, but with some care they could be very effective.

Overall, I feel that Bookworm Adventures improves on the original Bookworm formula in several ways, but unfortunately, it also introduces a few things that aren't really appropriate for the youngest gamers -- things like a level that resembles a drug trip, the revealing costumes worn by several of the female characters and one of the late game characters even uses what some people consider to be a mild swear word.

Of course, the biggest problem with this game is one that currently plagues the entire Bookworm franchise: it's been taken off the market. Last I heard, this was due to an intellectual property dispute, so it's possible that it will return in the future. Similar games have appeared in the Steam store, though it's anybody's guess when I'll get to reviewing those.

Points of Interest

Bookworm adapts to its new genre well
Changing genres can end badly for a series, as the developers are practically starting over again. This often results in a sharp drop in quality, though Bookworm Adventures manages to make the shift from a word-based puzzle game to an adventure game really smoothly. It helps that they didn't stray too far from the original idea.
Searchable Bestiary and bonus minigames
Once you progress far enough in the story, you unlock various bonus features. These include a fully searchable bestiary and the ability to play the minigames whenever you want. Playing the minigames this way doesn't aid you in your quest, but it does let you practice them or just play them for fun.
Comic book cutscenes keep the story moving
At various points the story is told via animated comics. It's a simple way of doing cutscenes, and it works really well. If you want, you can even skip the cutscene and get right into the action.

The story itself takes several unexpected turns and there are a few plot twists that you might not be expecting. Just about everyone has their own agenda in this tale, and while Lex is book-smart, he's also very street stupid. Thus, he's remarkably easy to trick, and often innocently blunders into trouble that could've been avoided.
Combat feels a little unbalanced some of the time
There's no real way to properly grind for experience. The best you can do is replay the current stage until you eventually clear it. This becomes tedious at points, and some levels are harder than the levels that follow them.
Some artifacts don't appear to work
Many of the artifacts protect Lex against certain debuffs. However, some of them don't seem to actually work. For example, petrify is annoying, and nothing appears to block it, including the items that are supposedly protecting Lex from being petrified.
The last cutscene is obviously cheap
Developers often take shortcuts when they make a game, and it's really only an issue when the shortcut is glaringly obvious and distracts the player. Case in point: the final cutscene uses an image of Cassandra no less than five times on the same screen. Everything else in this final comic was drawn fresh and from various angles, creating a very jarring effect that can ruin the moment.

Concerns and Issues

Classic tales and characters
Since the adventure takes place inside the stories of yore, Lex encounters a lot of famous faces in his travels. Each of the areas is designed after a theme and contains monsters that you'd expect for that setting. For example, the area based on Greek/Roman mythology has monsters like harpies, centaurs and a cyclops or three.
Lex visits the Underworld for a bit
Early on Lex takes a detour through the Underworld. As expected, the area is populated by the undead and there's piles of skulls everywhere. It's still taken lightly, and the game even cracks jokes about the situation -- there's a Phantom that enjoys opera, for example.
Failure is treated lightly
If Lex is defeated, he'll fall over and an angel form of himself will fly off the screen. However, death is just a tap on the wrist in this game. You can try a stage as many times as you need, and in the meantime, the minigames are usually made available to help you regain any potions you used up in your last attempt.
Mild swearing in one instance
One of the monsters in the third chapter has an incredibly stereotypical Southern manner of speaking, and at one point this includes the use of the word "whoopass".
A little more clothing wouldn't hurt
Some of the enemies, nymphs in particular, show a lot of skin. They are still covered and wearing more than a bikini, but it would only take a sudden breeze to change that. In short, I can see parents objecting to characters wearing the same outfits in a movie, so it should be considered objectionable here.
Lex has quite a trip in the desert
At one point in the second chapter, Lex ends up stranded in the desert. He eventually experiences some crazy hallucinations, up to and including his own evil opposite, Xel. This entire level resembles a drug trip, even though it's played for humor.