SpellTower from Zach Gage is an iOS word game whose simple design hides some pretty diabolical challenges. And though the app's controls can be a little too challenging in their own right--particularly if you're playing on an iPhone--it's still a great game for people who love word play.
SpellTower scatters a bunch of lettered tiles across a grid, and it's up to you to formulate words from those tiles as you would in a word-search-puzzle kind of way. You can form words vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, backward or forward. And you're not committed to any one direction: If you form a word by zig-zagging across the board and reversing course, then SpellTower is happy to let you do so.
The words you form must be at least three letters long (although numbered tiles expressly demand that you make longer words if you want to use those tiles). Once you've tapped out a word, those tiles disappear from the board. You should try to make full use of your vocabulary when playing SpellTower, though; forming words of five letters or more not only makes those tiles disappear, but all surrounding tiles as well. You also rack up larger scores.
The game throws in a few obstacles and bonuses. Blank tiles cut you off from the rest of the board, but if you form a word using a letter touching one of those blanks, you can make it go bye-bye. Especially challenging letters like Q or X usually show up as blue tiles; include them in a word, and the entire row disappears.
SpellTower offers multiple game styles. Tower Mode gives you a full grid of letters; you're challenged to score as many points as possible until you run out of word-creation options. Puzzle Mode adds a new line of tiles every time you create a word; the game ends when one of the columns reaches the top of the screen. A more complex version of Puzzle Mode features more of the tiles with lengthy word requirements. And Rush Mode adds rows over time, requiring you to form words that keep the tiles from reaching the top of the screen.
The different game modes keep things lively. Puzzle Mode and Rush Mode are particularly engaging because they both require a certain amount of strategy and attention. You can knock off a bunch of tiles on one side of the screen, but that's not going to stop the other columns from creeping steadily toward the top. The challenge is enough to keep even the most-skilled word-game veterans on their toes.
Version 3 of SpellTower introduced a multiplayer mode in which you can square off against another opponent in a Rush-style game over Bluetooth. I had a little bit of trouble getting my iPhone and iPad to recognize each other in this mode, but when I did get the two devices connected, SpellTower's multiplayer feature is a lot of fun. It's a great way to challenge nearby friends or add some healthy competition in a multi-iOS device household. That said, some gamers may be disappointed that you're limited to Bluetooth connectivity and can't take on the wider world.
My biggest frustration with the game turns out to be the controls, although that frustration is largely limited to when I play SpellTower on my iPhone. You select tiles either by sliding your finger across times or tapping them in the order you want to form words. On the iPhone's tiny screen, accurate sliding is a difficult feat to pull off, and even tapping tiles can lead to errors--especially under the timed pressure of Rush Mode. Things work a little bit more smoothly on the iPad, especially with sliding selections, though I do think the game can be a little quick on the draw to recognize three-letter words when I'm trying to formulate four-letter ones. I wish there was some kind of undo feature--even if in some limited form--to wipe out hasty selections.
But even those minor complaints don't keep me from sitting down with SpellTower whenever I have a few idle moments. It's a fun way to flex your vocabulary and among the better word game offerings in the App Store.
Philip Michaels is the managing editor of TechHive Media.