Are you a strategist, a puzzler or a wordsmith? Do you like learning new things and challenging yourself? Then the latest release from Denki will see you glued to your xbox with its addictive take on world domination. Where as other games ask that you use firepower to fight foes, Quarrel puts your brain to battle in a war of words.
It may seem odd to sound enthusiastic about a word game, but do not be fooled; Quarrel is both engaging and addictive. If you have ever been engrossed in a game of Words with Friends or exhausted from a grueling game of Risk, then you will have no trouble jumping into a quarrel. Even those unfamiliar with word combinations and world conquest will quickly feel comfortable in command, with simple controls and a range of difficulties to challenge but still entertain.
Publisher: UTV Ignition Games
Platform: XBLA (Reviewed), iOS
Players: Single-Player, 2-4 players online
Genre: Puzzle & Trivia, Educational?!
Release: January 25th, 2012
PLAY (9 points)
Quarrel is a strategy game much like Risk, where you compete against up to three other players to conquer island regions with the goal of total domination. The unique spin is that your battles are determined, not by the roll of a dice or a randomly generated number, but by your ability to create words for points (as you would in Scrabble or Words with Friends). Whether attacking or defending, you are given a mixture of letters with which to form a word; every round has the potential for an 8-letter anagram, however the word you can make is limited by the troops you have available (for example if you have only five troops defending, you can make a 5-letter word maximum).
Having originated as an iOS game, the layout of the lettering is not necessarily optimized for use with a controller. This can be a problem sometimes in fast-paced games against the more advanced AI opponents, but can be avoided with use of a chatpad or compatible usb keyboard if you have one available. If not, it is not a big issue as overtime most players will become accustomed to the layout and selection speed.
The gameplay in Quarrel is based around one-on-one word battles, so to keep everyone involved in 3+ player games there are also bonus rounds to compete in; at the same times as the attacking/defending parties are working on their word-jumbles, other players can submit their own anagram made from the same letters. The points earned from this, in addition to the points from your own battles, add up to give you extra troops over time. This is a great feature to keep everyone involved and lets your show off your word skills at the same time as the warring parties.
At the end of each word battle you are also always shown what the 8-letter word was, as well as brief definitions of each word used (whether by you, your opponents or the 8-letter anagram). This double edged sword means that you can add interesting words to your vocabulary for future use, or kick yourself over anagrams that seem so simple in hindsight.
STYLE (8 points)
The style of Quarrel is quite basic and colourful, given its origins as an iOS game. The map styles are simple but calculated, allowing both beginners and masters room to maneuver and manipulate. The game’s point of view manages the scale of battle very well, moving from a large map overview for plotting, down to individual regions as you move your troop, then zooming right in on the troops for the word battle action. The troops themselves appear in the form of various adorably limbless minions; army men, scotsmen, viking women, robots, ninjas, pirates, aliens and cavemen (although this last character might be an unfortunate depiction of an island “native”.)
An odd feature, or lack thereof, is that you are not actually able to select which troops you use in battle. Each time you start the game a little troop will pop up on your screen offering explanations of the game modes and various word trivia; whichever character this is will be your troop type for all matches in single-player. Although whomever you use does not affect the game itself, if you have an affinity for a particular troop type it is a bit disappointing to be stuck with one you dislike (the pirate vs. ninja divide, for example, can be a difficult to cross). It just seems like the ability to choose your troops, at the very least for single-player games, would be a simple yet satisfying addition.
Despite their size your tiny troops are quite animated; trembling as the time-limit draws close, cheering when they conquer neighbouring regions, throwing tantrums when defeated and offering either battle cries or whispers when engaging in scuffles (depending on your word’s score). You can actually find yourself getting attached to the little critters, which only adds to the anguish of losing a scuffle as you see them fly off to heaven – not to mention losing to an opponent with fewer troops! If you (or your opponent) defends and wins against a larger troop, the victor takes some folk prisoner and those little turncoats wear the clothes of their new squad and actually cheer with them! TRAITORS! Overall Quarrel‘s style, colourfulness and enthusiasm works well for it, making the potentially boring concept of anagrams and strategy quite entertaining.
SOLO (4 points)
The single-player modes in Quarrel is varied, interesting and challenging – you will certainly not be left wanting if you don’t play online. Game modes include quick matches for random maps and opponents; domination, to conquer increasingly complicated maps; showdown, for battling progressively harder opponents; challenges, to best your foes in a particular fashion; and custom matches where you play your way. There is of course also a tutorial mode available to walk you through the basics before you jump into battle.
When playing you will find yourself against up to three of the nine AI characters; each with their own play styles, strategies and word knowledge (their Word IQ). There are ‘slower’ characters who go for long words over points, some who are devious in their domination, then others still whose minds are sharp and vocabularies unusual. The variety in opponent types means that gamers of any skill level can play as they see fit; whether they’re in the mood for a quick comfortable match or ready for a grueling, fast-paced battle of the brains.
ONLINE (6 points)
The release of Quarrel on Xbox Live has seen multiplayer mode added to the mix, taking you online to compete against up to 3 other intelligent individuals online. The turn order, troops and team colours are all set at random before you are thrown into the fray to get your best word out the fastest. Disappointingly the multiplayer is only available online and you cannot play against people on the same console; presumably this is because the game’s original iOS-based layout did not cater for multiple player points of view as well as the difficulty in obscuring competitor’s responses.
Quarrel is only in its early days on Xbox Live, so the matchmaking lobby can be empty at times. You can however jump into a game against the AI while waiting for a human opponent to appear, which is handy and helps avoid a boring wait. Another useful feature is that if an opponent disconnects before the match is over, the AI with the closest Word IQ will jump back in to keep the game flowing and ensure that you do not lose any word stats (since these add up overtime for your Word IQ and some achievements, such as having made 100 anagrams).
The downside to the multiplayer system is that when a person is knocked out completely in a game with 3+ people, that person still has to stick around until someone wins the whole game. Once knocked out you can still compete in the bonus rounds but you cannot exit without quitting and losing your stats for that match. If you’re not fussed about the stats then there’s no problem in quitting, since the AI will take over in your stead. It is odd to not allow people to exit once they have been excluded from play as games can easily run for over an hour. Despite these problems the multiplayer mode is still a great addition to the Quarrel line up.
WORDS (9 points)
An unfortunate side-effect of being a word-focussed game is that some of your opponent’s anagram can leave you feeling frustrated. Colloquialisms aside, the higher-leveled characters seem to get away with obscure words ‘just because’. I mean, “Anguipe: To have snakes for legs“? Come on! Other times they seem to make up words solely to annoy you; my experiences included being bested by “vinil” as you would use “vinyl“; “rez” as a shortened version of reservation; and “hempiest“. What is this, I don’t even.
Then not only can the AI trip you up on occasion with illogical words, you are also restrained by Quarrel‘s word filter. The game has been required to block certain words depending on whether you have family restrictions on your Xbox, where you are in the world and whether you are playing online. The filters still leave a lot to be desired however, as words such as “help” and “start” are deemed inappropriate for online play, while offline games can see the AI using words such as “fem: a passive homosexual” and “fag/ short for faggot: a ball of chopped liver, herbs and bread”.
There is of course a place for a word filter in a “G” rated game, however it could have been done better and seems almost redundant when you are given the ability to communicate with opponents via headset (with no in-game ability to mute them). While the word issues are frustrating and somewhat illogical, they are certainly not a deal breaker. Just be aware if you are predisposed to raging, or have small children playing.
OVERALL (10 points)
Quarrel is an enjoyable game that is suitable for beginners through to puzzle pros. It’s easy to get into and, although it takes time to master, gives you everything you need to develop some significant word power. The drawbacks are an odd dictionary that takes some getting used to, no same-console multiplayer and the potential for long online games, however these are not deal-breakers so much as points to be aware of.
Do not be scared off trying this game because of the word puzzles or its simple, cute appearance; Quarrel is an engaging and addictive game. You will often find yourself yelling and/or swearing at the TV when, although outnumbering your enemy, you are beaten because you just could NOT find a word in time. Gah! How did I not see that one!? Then there’s the cheering as you defy overwhelming odds to win with a simple “YO” and of course the (completely justified) gloating when you see the 8-letter word straight away. HA! Take that!
Quarrel is available now on Xbox Live for 400 Microsoft Points, while the iOS version is $2.99 for both the Australia and the US. If you’re still unsure about the potential fun of word game, download the demo and let us know what you think. It’s certainly worth getting, and the tiny price tag makes it all the sweeter.
8 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.