Anagrams Review: What’s in a word?
Everyone loves a good anagram — you take a word, you jumble the order of the letters, and you try to figure out what the original word was (ideally someone who isn’t you would jumble the original word, otherwise if you did it you’d know the answer to the puzzle… you know what I mean!). And everyone loves a good word game — Scrabble, Boggle, Word Forward, and so many other great games to choose from! You can tell from context clues where this is going, right? Right. Anagram word game (yesss totally nailed that opening paragraph).
Developed and self-published by Hero Game Co., Anagrams was one of the very last games launched in 2020, released right on December 31. A chill, casual game that mixes match-3 elements with word puzzles, Anagrams is available on Steam for $7.99. Boasting over 1,400 colorful levels spanning four unique game models, Anagrams may be easy to learn, but its addictive gameplay makes it surprisingly hard to quit.
Anagrams features fun yet relaxed multi-faceted gameplay that feels unique to word games. After choosing a category like food and drink, mammals, or major cities, players will be dropped into a matching-type board. Making matches isn’t clearly explained right off the bat, but it’s easy enough to get the gist through playing. In a nutshell, players will need to pair two halves of a whole letter together, easily identifiable by matching extremely bright colors. Matches can only be made by moving letters once vertically, horizontally, or diagonally (with some exceptions). Circles of the same color off to the left side will gradually fill up as matches are made, the round ending once enough of each colored letter are collected. Players will then be presented with the gathered letters, ready to be rearranged in the proper order to form a word pertaining to the chosen category.
In classic mode, each category has 25 – 50 levels, starting players off easy with five letter words and ramping up the difficulty as time goes on. If players find themselves stuck, they can use abilities and special tiles to help them get through the level — at the cost of a score multiplier at the round’s end. I wouldn’t worry too much about the score, however; in the words of Drew Carey, “the points don’t matter, just like the nutrition facts on a Happy Meal.” Oh sure, you’ll unlock keys the better you do… I think. Actually it’s extremely unclear and even slightly bugged — at one point, I was earning a key after every round, even if I quit after failing a level. But keys will help you unlock more categories and game modes, so they’ll definitely come in handy.
As for the abilities and special tiles, Anagrams offers quite an interesting combination to keep even the most strategic minds on their toes. Naturally, there are some obvious abilities, such as a magnifying glass to help players find the next possible match and the circular arrows that give players an opportunity to scramble the board. Then there are some interesting abilities that tie in to some of the special tiles on the board. For example, if a letter is grayed out and has a lock icon on it, the tile is immobile; now, it can still be used to make matches, but only if another tile is moved to it and not the other way around. If you’d like to revert it to a normal tile, the key ability will unlock all the locked tiles on the board, making them mobile once more.
Unfortunately, tiles are pretty likely to get locked, either by originating as a locked tile dropping down from top to replenish those you’ve collected, or due to an unfortunate bomb going off, locking all horizontal and vertical tiles it touches. To avoid a letter bomb going off, take a look at the tile’s timer icon; it’ll feature a number, notating the amount of turns it has before it goes kaboom. If you can make a match out of that letter tile before the timer is up, you’ll eliminate the threat completely. Can’t make that happen in time? Try using the timer extension ability — it won’t solve the problem, but it’ll reset the timer back to the maximum amount of turns possible, allowing you more time to extinguish the threat.
There are also other tile types, such as the lateral arrows type that allows you to move a tile without making a match, and the paper airplane tile that will let you move that tile anywhere across the board to make a match. If you’re looking to collect those aforementioned abilities — they’re limited, you know — you’ll need to match letters with the corresponding icons to collect an ability. Although score chasers are going to feel the need to hoard them indefinitely, they really can make or break a level. I can’t tell you how many times I prolonged my suffering on a level, looking everywhere for one last A or S, only to shuffle the board and get it instantly. Oh, well!
While the gameplay is extremely fun and the difficulty curve is such a gradual incline that you barely notice (a fantastic thing), I partially attribute Anagrams’ addictiveness to its ambient music. I’m ADHD so take this for what you will, but the music made my brain “hum at the right frequency.” I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to describe it — it was like a sustained dopamine drip that I had to literally force myself to quit. I know I lean easily into enthusiastic hyperbole, but I’ve absolutely prolonged this review because I knew it’d mean I’d have to stop playing Anagrams and move onto the next game, and I’m just not ready to give this up. What can I say? I guess I’m addicted to Anagrams. Good thing there’s 1,400+ to sustain me.
Anagrams is casual yet strategic, chill yet vibrant, and really, really hard to quit. Who would have thought that mixing matching games with anagrams would work so well together? With 1,400+ levels spread across four different game modes, it doesn’t need to be spelled out that Anagrams will keep word nerds entertained for hours on end. Whether you play it in short spurts before bed or marathon it all day, Anagrams is the word game your brain deserves.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Hero Game Co.; Developer: Hero Game Co.; Players: 1; Released: December 31, 2020; MSRP: $7.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Anagrams provided by the publisher.