Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered Review — Spelling Out “GREAT”
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered is truly a one of a kind game, in the very literal sense of the words. Not too often do you hear of a turn-based RPG that uses Scrabble as the key gameplay element. Yet that is exactly what developer Bacon Bandits put together in this title, making for a delightful and quasi-intellectual romp that is made for gamers looking to test how verbose they truly are.
I need to put a small disclaimer in the beginning: I’m not great at Scrabble, or any spelling-based games (I’m looking at you, Hangman). Despite all the formal education and writing I do on a daily basis, I’m relegated to generally using “COW” and “BARK” in most of these games — basically anything on par with a third-grader’s spelling level.
And despite my apparent lack of any skill whatsoever, I still had a terrific time with Letter Quest Remastered. While it may have been enough to simply recreate Scrabble or Words with Friends, Bacon Bandits took the concept and added a spin that would appeal to the majority of gamers. While I was admittedly poor at putting words together, I was often thinking of inventory management, best routes for upgrades, and in-game customization.
The gameplay of Letter Quest is both simple and well-executed: your grim reaper approaches a line of cheekily-named enemies, with the goal of defeating them all and breaking a gem pile at the end. To defeat the enemies, your grim reaper (Grimm or Rose) is given 15 letters, with each letter having one of three different rarity levels. After finding the word that is as long as possible with the most rare letters as possible, Grimm will attack with an assigned damage level. Do enough damage (before enemies can kill you!) and you reach the end.
That brief description leaves off minor nuances the game has — for instance, enemies can have abilities that add effects to your tiles. Some enemies may poison a tile, making it harmful to use in crafting a word; meanwhile, another enemy may duplicate a tile, meaning that — if unused — the tile will continue to duplicate the ones directly touching it. On top of that, some letter tiles are randomly generated “gem tiles” which, when used, will generate a beneficial effect for Grimm.
Finally, there is occasionally a Hangman/”Wheel of Fortune”-esque minigame, where players will be asked to guess a mystery word by guessing a select number of letters. Not only did this add a nice amount of variety to the title, but it also was the most accessible portion — anyone in my house liked to chime in on their guesses to what the word may be.
Gems (received by defeating normal enemies, opening chests, and beating levels) are used to customize and build on your character. The upgradables are surprisingly deep, ranging from new and modifiable scythes, abilities for Grimm to make him more effective, or spell books to make spelling words more deadly. This upgrade tree not only added some complexity into what might otherwise be a flat experience, but it also gives you a reason to keep playing.
The game is broken up into two different modes: Story Mode and Endless Mode. The former takes you on Grimm’s quest to get a bite to eat. Utilizing an overworld map, there are 40 different levels, each with four variations: a regular mode, a time attack mode, a special mode, and a hard mode. While everything is roughly the same level-to-level, and the modes don’t fundamentally change, I still found each stage interesting — likely due to the inherently short nature of each stage.
Endless Mode instead offers a challenge to see how far you can make it against an endless stream of enemies. While giving some nice variety, I thought the mode was particularly underwhelming. After trudging through 30 enemies in rough 45 minutes, I felt like there was no progression or reward to the exercise besides a job well done.
Minor gripes with Letter Quest Remastered include some of my angst regarding words that the in-game dictionary would (or wouldn’t) recognize. For instance, it managed to get “WAIFU” without a hitch, but couldn’t process any word starting with “NON” or understand the word “TEXAN.” Also, there is a quick workaround for Time Trial modes that take the difficulty out entirely — players are able to pause the countdown clock when checking the meaning of a word they spelled. Too often I would spell out a basic word like “MOM” and check the meaning, only to sit for a minute or two with the clock stopped to find the most sophisticated word I could.
While it isn’t a huge consideration, the game feels like it could have benefitted from a couch co-op mode. While playing the title on PlayStation 4, my girlfriend had a blast tuning in and helping put together words. Yet, perhaps despite each of us trying to set high scores in Endless Mode, there wasn’t a way for us to all play together. It would have been great to have a mode allowing Grimm and Rose to battle it out in a small PvP section of the game.
Finally, there is one major hitch to the game — it is very niche. Despite the RPG elements, not many people I know would get a ton of kicks out of spelling words all day when they could be shooting aliens or hacking apart zombies in other titles. With that said, the game is a perfect fit on Vita as a quick game to play while lying in bed or on the way to work — just make sure you have enough of a vocabulary that you can grab it without being frustrated.
All in all, Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered is worth your time and money. While the gameplay is simple and effective, the RPG and customization elements manage to offer an invigorating spin that will attract nearly any gamer. Despite a mode that seemingly lacks progression and a few technical quirks, Letter Quest is a joy to play — especially for those looking to test their vocabulary.