It is always a nice thing to find an entertaining game which also has an aspect contained within it that helps you become better at life. Quarrel does exactly this by presenting a fun and accessible game that helps boost your vocabulary. Developed by Denki and published by UTV Ignition, this is a strategy game based around developing larger and more valuable words than your opponents, in order to take over their territory. Basically, you can call it a very simple cross between Scrabble and Risk.
Originally released as a touchscreen iOS game, with which it achieved great success, Quarrel has finally made its way on to Xbox Live Arcade.
In essence, you are tasked with using up to eight letters to come up with whatever words you can think of, with the highest points coming from getting the eight-letter anagram correct. Your choice of letters will be in this anagram form, so you will always have a word to choose from as long as you have enough “troops” to spell those words out. For winning these word battles, you will be able to take control of enemy territory and add to your army, with the end goal of total domination. That is accomplished by taking over the entire map.
Even though Quarrel has a very simple premise, there are many different game types, which include Quick Play, Domination, Challenges, and Showdowns. There are different tasks and goals to each of these scenarios but, unfortunately, most of them tend to meld together and produce basically the same gameplay experience throughout. When it comes down to it, if you can win the word battles, the territory grab becomes very easy, taking away any actual strategy that you may have wanted to employ. The limited strategy that you are actually able to use comes into play when taking hostages and separating enemies’ territories, fracturing their troops. Other than these examples, it pretty much comes down to who has the bigger vocabulary.
Multiplayer is the biggest exclusive addition to the Xbox version. It allows you to have 2-4 player battles, which is much more fun than playing against AI characters whose word choices are mathematically determined. This is definitely the highlight of the game, creating a more dynamic and engaging version of what you would see in Words With Friends.
As for the visuals and sound, you can tell right away that Quarrel is attempting to ratchet up the “cute level” by inundating you with bright and contrasting colors, tropical locations, and that strange, nonsensical fake language that is a staple of both The Sims and Civilization series. Although this is nice for about 10 seconds, the constant babbling of your troops gets quite annoying. Add repetitive sound effects, which are only somewhat endearing, along with generic and excitable salsa music which is very heavy on the horns, and you come out with sound design that can only be stomached in moderation.
The animation, although containing a nice overall aesthetic, is somewhat wooden and does not allow the game to provide any depth. The Rayman/Mii look of your troops is okay, but becomes stale and uninteresting pretty quick. Also, when you take over a territory, the ensuing battle is underwhelming to the point of being a bit disappointing.
This lack of battle animation leads to the bigger problem of the game: the fact that it’s quite one-dimensional. You will quickly find that this is basically Scrabble, with the skeleton of Risk barely making an impact on the overall effectiveness of the game. Hopes for a strategic element are quickly dashed with the knowledge that simply winning every quarrel will basically guarantee you victory, without the need to choose the right enemy or having to take the correct territory. This is disappointing to see but, if they can somehow expand the Risk part of the game in future iterations, this has the potential to be a classic. Until then, this is basically just a “Cute Anagram Game.”
Some of my issues with the game stem from the fact that I would not normally consider Quarrel a traditional Xbox Live Arcade game, mostly due to its extreme simplicity. You can really tell this is an iOS game with how straightforward and manageable it is, but I found that it was lacking the normal production value and depth that many other Live Arcade games offer. The price is right for Quarrel, making it a good value, but it still does not quite compare to some of the other games you will find on the service.
That being said, Quarrel is not bad by any means, and offers fun gameplay for those who love word games. The user interface is simple and easy, making the game very accessible. I would find myself saying that I would stop playing after this particular round, only to continue on because I wanted to do better. This sense of accomplishment for winning, or simply for just finding a great word, is exciting and rewarding.
All in all, Quarrel is an addictive, light-hearted and rewarding word game that provides an appealing setting to play a variation of Scrabble. Although the strategy element is not fleshed out and leads to a rather one-dimensional experience, the user-friendly interface, bright aesthetic and endless word challenges make this a charming and enjoyable game.
I am very excited to see what directions Denki will take this game in the future and will be waiting for the next iteration. Until then, this will more than do.
Quarrel is available on Xbox Live right now and costs 400 MS points ($5). This review is based on a copy of the game which was supplied to us for review purposes.
Accessible interface, nice aesthetics and fun wordplay make this a great purchase for those looking for something a bit different.