Over the years, the role-playing genre has taken many forms. There’s the traditional, pen and paper confines of Dungeons and Dragons, which required players to use their imaginations; freeing LARPing (or live action role-playing, if you will); traditional turn-based Japanese RPGs and the surging Western RPG genre with all of its variations. Those are just some of the experiences that this blanket term covers, and it’s a list that doesn’t even include the popular puzzle and word games that have taken smartphones by storm, with one such example being Letter Quest.
After finding a home on mobile and PC, Bacon Bandit’s word battle has arrived on Xbox One as Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered. As such, the short but relatively unique experience is now available to a whole new audience.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered carries a mouthful of a title, but the gameplay that drives it is anything but grammatically incorrect. You see, this is a game that is all about spelling, and requires its questers to have at least a decent knowledge of the English language. Those who have issues with spelling could find things frustrating due to the complex words that are sometimes needed to progress, but they can also look on the other side of the coin and view it as a learning experience. Furthermore, this is a game that parents can buy for their children if they worry that they’re lacking educational experiences on their Xbox One or PlayStation 4 consoles.
This two to three hour-long journey begins by showing a comic, wherein a young reaper named Grimm is asking his phone to find the closest pizza joint. His world isn’t like ours, though, and the results that come back are worrying to say the least. That’s because, instead of showing that a pizza place is within close walking distance to his home, the phone states that the only ‘nearby’ ones will require him to travel through dangerous locales, such as a haunted graveyard and dangerous forest. Begrudgingly, Grimm sets out on his quest for sustenance without letting what may await scare him off.
Being that this is a mobile game, however, there’s little in the way of a visceral over world. Instead, closing the first of several comics shows Grimm on a very basic, Mario Bros.-esque map, with his haunted manor as his starting point. It’s a set-up that is very similar to what you’ll find in other mobile titles, where you progress from one dot to another and try to get as many stars as you possibly can along the way.
In total, Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered offers about thirty stages to battle your way through, including main (numbered) levels and optional boss battles. The gameplay always boils down to the same thing, however, and that’s using your available tiles to spell out words, much like you would in a game of Scrabble. The difference here is that you’re given a squared assortment of different tiles, which can be changed at the press of a button, although doing so makes you forfeit one turn.
Enemies are varied, and different ones possess abilities that can mess with your tiles, by cracking them (which makes them susceptible to breakage), poisoning them (which hurts you when you use them), turning them upside down (to make them more difficult to read), or by making them into cyclonic letters that change after each turn. There’s also a plague that can spread through your tiles, as well as a rock status effect that makes them unusable for a certain amount of time.
To best what ends up becoming stiff competition after a while, you’ll need to use your smarts and take advantage of gold and silver notched tiles. These are usually letters like C, Q and Z, as they’re generally more difficult to make into words than other letters. When you can use them, though, they work to your advantage by causing more damage. In fact, the best way to cause an enemy a hefty amount of punishment is by forming long words using these more powerful letters.
Randomly spawning crystal letter tiles also work to your advantage, and can help turn the tide of battle. These come in a few different varieties, and offer things like health regeneration and a shield that sticks around for a set amount of turns. The health is arguably better, though, because the shield only blocks about half of the damage that enemies direct at you.
As mentioned above, Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered becomes a pretty difficult game after a while, especially if you’re going for all of its stars (each level offers four, with each one having different requirements, such as beating the base level, completing it in a certain time, dealing with specific enemy buffs, or finishing the level against much stronger opposition.) Thankfully, Grimm has some upgradeable abilities and tools up his sleeve, including different scythes that each offer their own benefits, as well as two different types of potions. One heals, whereas the other can be used to clear a status effect away from tiles.
Grimm’s core assets can also be upgraded, meaning that his health, attack and defence can all be improved upon. Special books can also be purchased and equipped, giving you different bonuses, like health regeneration for every letter E you use, or additional damage for lengthy words. Many are more unique than the ones I mentioned, and each one can be upgraded over time.
There is frustration to be found, though, because sometimes the game will be a bit cheap. Certain bosses can only be damaged by certain letters, types of tiles (corner tiles only, for example) or lengths of words. This throws a wrench into your wheels sometimes, because the game isn’t always fair with what it gives you. It wouldn’t be a problem if pressing the retry button returned your used potions, but it doesn’t. Grimm can only hold a handful of potions at once, and when they’re used, they’re gone. This forces you to keep revisiting older levels to earn extra crystals, which can then be used to buy more potions, thus artificially inflating the game’s length.
Despite its bits of frustration, however, Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered exists as an interesting breath of fresh air. It’s a bit basic in comparison to other console games, due to its mobile roots and the more basic visual and gameplay designs that come with that, but it’s still a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Plus, its inclusion of an Endless Mode means that you’ll never encounter a shortage of word battles.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.