Puzzlejuice: A Colorful, Blocky Word Game

I’ve never been the biggest fan of traditional word games, whether it was a game of Scrabble or a word search; the former involved too much luck and the latter made me dizzy. Still, I found myself looking through the App Store for a word-based game that I could play, something to challenge myself and hold my interest for long periods of time. With Puzzlejuice, I have found that game.

Of course, calling Puzzlejuice a word game is selling the title short. Indeed, it’s a combination of word game, Tetris and color matching. It is, in a word, unique.

The Idea: Insane

Now, imagine that you’re sitting down, searching the App Store, looking into different games when you suddenly stumble upon Puzzlejuice. At first it seems insane: falling blocks, different colors, hidden words and powerups? How could those items come together in a cohesive whole? If you were to ask me before playing Puzzlejuice, I would have said that there was no way that such a game could be more than a half-hearted attempt at variety in a crowded market.

I’m pleased to report that I would have been dead wrong. Puzzlejuice has a little bit of something for everybody, and it manages to take a mixture of the old (Tetris, word searches and color matching) and transform each individual part into a completely original whole.

Moving and rotating a block falling from the top of the screen.

Moving and rotating a block falling from the top of the screen.

Puzzlejuice works like this: blocks are going to fall from the top of the screen. You can move those blocks left to right or down by moving your finger; a tap of the finger will rotate the block, while a downwards flick will slam the block to the bottom of the screen (or on top of the nearest blocks). Each block has a different shape and is comprised of different colors; the goal of the game is to either connect three like-colored blocks or to fill an entire row.

But wait, the fun doesn’t stop there! If that were it, this game would only be a slightly different game of Tetris. Instead, once you make those groups of three or more or finish a row you’re left with a bunch of letters. It’s your job to make the letters into words, and once you’ve accomplished that the letters will blow up and clear out for more blocks. You’re supposed to manage all this while making sure that no blocks hit the top of the screen.

Difficulty and Game Modes: Variable

Whether or not you’ll find Puzzlejuice difficult is up to you. If you aren’t a fan of word searches and you can’t multitask, then the game will be abominably difficult. Even if you are comfortable dividing your attention, the game will test your wits and reflexes, as the blocks continue to fall and you venture out into harder difficulties.

My favorite game mode is the default mode, where three-letter words will make adjacent blocks explode. There’s also a harder mode where you have to make five-letter words for the same effect; I have tried to play this mode and I can safely state that it makes the game that much more difficult.

The detail screen for Zen Mode Extreme

The detail screen for Zen Mode Extreme

There’s also a style of play called Zen Extreme Mode. In this paradoxically-titled option you will find that blocks don’t fall; instead, they rest at the top of the screen until you’re ready to move them. That’s the zen part — the extreme part comes into play when you realize that you only have 90 seconds to reach a high score.

All-in-all I’m pleased with the variety that Puzzlejuice offers. Some may complain that there’s really only two modes of play available, but when the premise of the game is as far out there as Puzzlejuice’s, I think that it’s okay to not try and cram a bunch of alternate modes in.

Responsiveness and Interaction: Iffy

I first started playing Puzzlejuice on the iPad and then switched to the iPhone, and I have to say that that is a bad idea. Once you’re used to the space of the iPad Puzzlejuice can feel a bit cramped on the iPhone’s screen. I was worried that this would render the game frustratingly non-responsive or difficult, but I’m happy to say that Puzzlejuice works rather well on the iPhone’s screen.

The feature that makes this work on the iPhone is a magnified view of the letters that you’re highlighting. Without this magnified view I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a word half of the time, and even once I did I wouldn’t have been able to connect the requisite blocks. Word selection isn’t perfect — it feels a little sloppy, despite the magnifier — but it’s good enough that you won’t find yourself losing the game due to the design.

Selecting a word with the built-in magnifier.

Selecting a word with the built-in magnifier.

Moving the blocks worked well, but there were a few times that the game registered a little drag down as a flick, slamming the blocks down before I had them properly rotated. This didn’t happen all that often and may have been the result of that panic that sinks in once those blocks start reaching higher and higher, but it still feels like this could be cleaner.

No one is going to see Puzzlejuice as the way forward for interaction design; it’s a fairly standard game so far as controls are concerned, and the real draw here is the premise of the game itself.

Sound and Style: Stunning

With stark colors and a killer soundtrack, Puzzlejuice just may be the most compelling looking word-based game on the market. Instead of focusing on the boring black, white and brown color scheme of older word games, Puzzlejuice is all about blocks of color (pardon that joke) and fitting sounds. You aren’t likely to be wowed in the same way that you would be by playing, say, Infinity Blade II, but that isn’t to say that Puzzlejuice is a bad looking game.

Well if that isn't the nicest pause screen I've ever seen!

Well if that isn't the nicest pause screen I've ever seen!

Where I really enjoyed the game’s style was with the little sense of attitude present throughout the game. If you pause  in the middle of a match you’re presented with a few options concerning the status of your game. You can choose “Let’s get back to it!” to continue your current game or you can hit “Rage Quit” in the top right corner. You’re also presented with your sweetest word in the pause screen, which is typically the longest word you found.

Puzzlejuice is a game that at once takes itself seriously — with the actual gameplay and sound design–and also as a joke, as seen with the above quotations. I appreciated this tongue-in-cheek approach to the interactions and felt that I was playing a game with a certain style (or, dare I say, swagger) instead of yet another boring, tile-based word game.

Conclusion

Puzzlejuice isn’t going to be for everyone, I’ll admit. If you can’t handle falling blocks, matching colors and finding words, you’ll want to steer clear of this game. Puzzlejuice is a harsh, but fair, mistress; it’s not going to hold your hand, it might call you names and there’s a possibility that you’re going to end up crying in the corner, but you’re going to love every minute of it.


Summary

A unique — and uniquely challenging — word game that is available as a universal app for the iPhone and iPad.

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