SpellTower is the word game rebuilt as survival horror. Its spare playing fields may suggest a world of innocent puzzling fun rather than gothic dread, but don’t be fooled: they’re battlegrounds as tense as any Resident Evil mansion. When the tiles start to build up, the ceiling inches closer, and the high-scoring moves just won’t present themselves, take a panicked moment to reflect on something. Mechanically, this isn’t that far removed from Scrabble. So how come it’s so much more exhausting?
In essence, the game is a word search: you’re presented with a neatly arranged jumble of letters and your job is to draw order from chaos, one tiny victory at a time. Tiles have to be touching in order for you to spell with them, but you’re free to then link the pieces as you please, moving diagonally if you need to and even looping back on yourself when you’re feeling dramatic. Build a word of five letters or more and you’ll take any surrounding tiles with it when it disappears from the board, while a few other wrinkles are present in the form of empty squares, which vanish if you make a word that touches them, and big money letters like X, Q and J, that will take out an entire row.
It’s gentle enough in Tower mode: you’ve got a grid of just 150 letters and are asked to whittle away at it until you’ve run out of matches. Tactical stuff, but hardly pulse-quickening. It’s with Puzzle mode – and its evil twin, Ex Puzzle mode – that things start to get tense, as each word you create introduces an entirely new row onto the board, gradually bringing your stack closer to the top of the grid, where failure awaits.
Suddenly, the game is about strategy as much as it is vocabulary; if you’re faced with a nine-letter showboater and a simple three-tile word that will eat away at a tower that’s getting a little too high, you’d be wise to fight your pride and go for the latter option. The absolute nightmare scenario arrives when you have columns on either side of the board steadily inching towards defeat, and you need to find words that will somehow stretch across the entire playing field, removing tiles from both stacks. At least the rows only start to pile up when you make moves, eh? Sadly, that’s not true of Rush mode, where they pop into existence every few seconds.
You should know what you’re getting into when you buy Zach Gage’s (the game dev/media artist of Lose/Lose fame) apparently easy going puzzle game, then, but the end result is a brainteaser that’s nervy, humbling, and strangely energising. If you can handle the stress, SpellTower is magnificent.