Shine up your shooters and dust off your dictionary because it’s time to cowboy up in Lexicon Larry’s West Word, the second game from developers Frivolous Twist. Before we head out though, you need to ask yourself one question: can you spell “lucky”? Well can you, punk?
As we mentioned when we covered the release of this title a few days ago, West Word combines the classic arcade-style shooting of Space Invaders with word-building by swapping out space aliens for letters of the alphabet. You control Lexicon Larry, marshal of the town of West Word. A cowboy with a love of all things wordy who must protect his small town from the chaos of the Falling Letter Gang. During gameplay, the Falling Letter Gang – a series of apparently randomly generated letters – fall slowly down the screen towards Larry, who is patrolling the scene with his two trusty six-shooters, gunning down the letters heading his way. You can shuffle Larry from side to side and shoot upwards at the oncoming enemies to take them out.
So far, so Space Invaders I hear you say. Not so fast there cowboy, unlike Space Invaders you have two weapons at your disposal in West Word: the red gun and the green gun. Shoot at a letter with the red gun and the letter disappears from play. Shoot with the green gun and the letter is added to your current word. Shoot enough letters in the correct order to make up a word and you score points. Scoring points adds to the time you have remaining before the barrel of TNT rolling down the left of the screen hits the bottom. If the barrel does his the bottom, it’s game over. However, if the horse on the right gets to the bottom before the TNT, you win and go on to the next round which starts immediately. Each round is a little faster and a little more frantic, and the games soon begins to test your reflexes and your vocabulary.
West Word also provides some bonuses to help up your score. “Bounty words” are shown on a wanted poster in the background of the field of play. If you build those words using the green gun you score extra points, sending the TNT a little further back up the screen and extending the time you have before the end of the round. I found it really tricky to build the bounty words though as it seemed to be quite rare for the right letters to show up. There are also some extra bonuses called “sharpshooter” and “quickdraw” which I managed to get a few times. However, I couldn’t actually figure out how I got these bonuses and there didn’t seem to be anything to explain them to me, so it was difficult to try and achieve this deliberately.
Mystifying scoring system aside, the game can be fairly entertaining, but if you’ve got fingers bigger than french fries I suggest playing on the iPad rather than an iPhone, if you can, as the controls are really very small otherwise. They’re also quite close to each other which can cause some issues. On the iPhone I frequently found myself pressing the red gun instead of the green gun, eliminating letters that I really wanted to collect. Similarly, I found myself moving in the wrong direction as the left and right buttons are very small and close to each other. These control issues are pretty frustrating but luckily it’s not as pronounced on the iPad’s bigger screen. They are, however, especially aggravating when trying to build a bounty word as messing up one letter can mean kissing goodbye to the bounty word completely; an issue that is further exacerbated by the infrequency with which the required letters fall down the screen. I’ve played for minutes at a time without seeing the letters I need for a bounty word. Having to get the letters in the correct order also means you can be there waiting for the right letter while seeing other letters you need go by the wayside. I can’t help but feel the game would work a lot better if it asked you to only build bounty words but let you pick those letters up in any order.
The game has some fun ragtime music tinkling along in the background, which you can imagine coming from the dusty corner of a sun-beaten saloon in the Wild West. Lexicon Larry speaks with the exact sort of small town sheriff drawl that you’d expect as he praises you for good shots and chastises you for messing up a word. Developer Marc Gilbert – in true indie style – had the voice of Larry provided by a friend of a relative. There is a slight echo on Larry’s vocals though which does make it sound as if he’s talking to you from the bottom of a tin can.
There are a number of achievements built into this game which add an extra challenge to the experience and will make some people want to come back for more. For me though, the frustrations that I’ve found with it mean that while Larry’s heroics in West Word are occasionally fun, more often than not they end up a little disappointing. Larry’s a good marshal, but he’s shot a little wide of the mark here.
- Clever new twist on word game
- Fun western theme
- Controls are too small on iPhone
- Letter distribution seems unbalanced