Jumble Friends (iOS/Android) review

Jumble FriendsJumble Friends is a new iOS/Android game from Jericho Games. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store and Google Play. This review is based on the iOS version, tested on an iPhone 4S.

Jumble Friends is an asynchronous multiplayer anagram-based word game in which you compete against another player to quickly solve all the jumbled-up words as quickly as possible. As usual for this type of game, players may either connect with Facebook and invite their friends to play, pair up with random strangers or invite people by username. There is no requirement to have a Facebook account to play the game — those without one can sign up with their email address.

Upon starting a new game, players may pick one of several different categories to choose words from, and may optionally purchase additional categories using their in-game currency. Some of the categories are fairly vague (such as “verbs” or “four-letter words”) while others are more specific (“common boys’ names”). Category choice alternates between the two players with each round — in the first round, the player who started the game gets to pick the category; their opponent starts the next round by picking a category; and so on until five rounds have been completed and a winner declared.

In a single round, players are presented with four jumbled words from the given category and must unscramble them as quickly as possible by dragging the letters around to swap their places. When a word has been successfully unscrambled, it turns green and is no longer editable. When all four words have been completed, the player’s final time is compared to their opponent’s (assuming the opponent has already taken their turn) and play passes to the other player. Between rounds, players may send a message and emoticon to their opponent indicating how they feel about the last round.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 12.09.39 PMThe player can enlist some assistance in finding the words with several different powerups, each of which costs in-game currency to use, and which may be used an unlimited number of times during the game. These powerups include the ability to freeze the timer for a moment, to automatically push a letter into the right place (and lock it there), and to highlight any letters that are already correctly-positioned. These powerups form the backbone of the game’s monetization, but unfortunately there is more than a touch of “pay to win” about them — they unbalance the game completely, and mean that a player with a large stock of in-game currency can simply repeatedly make use of the powerup that slides letters into place and/or the timer freeze function to pretty much guarantee victory. The game would be better and more competitive if use of these powerups was either limited in a single round, or removed altogether — the in-game currency is also used to unlock categories, so there would still be the opportunity for monetization even if the latter option was chosen. Alternatively, making the powerups cost more coins to use would perhaps discourage their use quite so often.

This is a shame, because aside from the unbalanced nature of the powerups, Jumble Friends is a fun game, and a good addition to iOS’ library of excellent asynchronous multiplayer word games. With a few tweaks to the game balance here and there, it could be a really good game, and the developer appears to be committed to making it the best experience possible — we’re told an update is already waiting for approval from Apple that provides free powerups to users after 45 seconds in exchange for a small time penalty. This may help level the playing field a little, but it remains to be seen how players will take to the game in the long term.

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A fun asynchronous word game with some balancing issues.