The team at Westlake Interactive gets a triple word score for “excellence” in Hasbro Interactive’s PC Scrabble port to the Macintosh platform. Published by
MacSoft, Scrabble proves that the word is mightier than the railgun. Amidst popular gory and frag-thirsty first person shooters, Scrabble offers a refreshing change of pace to the gaming community that desperately needs games that stimulates learning and not just our trigger fingers.
One of the premier Macintosh game porting companies, Austin, Texas-based Westlake Interactive have earned the respect of Mac gamers world-wide. They have brought myriad PC titles to the Mac like Deus Ex, The Sims, Unreal Tournament, Falcon 4.0, the Tomb Raider series and many others. Scrabble is another winner for Westlake Interactive.
MacSoft’s Scrabble meticulously recreates the popular board game in which victory is achieved by arranging randomly sorted lettered tiles into an existing word, acronym or any sequence of letters that can be found in any dictionary until all the tiles are exhausted. Any wordsmith will appreciate the mental challenge of besting other opponents with their own prodigious vocabulary. The game’s slick and intuitive interface and its multiplayer features create an addictive environment where players can either hone their vocabulary or log on to Scott Kevill’s GameRanger to pit themselves against live online players.
Scrabble’s interface is elegant. The lush and polished graphics complement a slick, well-designed and “hands-on” gameplay, recreating the tactile feel of the game without hassles over keyboard commands. The Scrabble board is laid out with wood tiles occupying the lower half of the screen. Layout options include a tilted board view, giving the game a spatial, three dimensional feel, or a direct overhead view for a more traditional layout. The game also includes MP3 audio file support, allowing users to simply drag and drop songs of their choice into the Scrabble music box. Moreover, players can change the look of the board to either wood, marble or chrome. Players can further customize the ambience of Scrabble with beautifully rendered backgrounds, such as a cosmic scene and a bayou setting — all mesh seamlessly into Scrabble’s gameplay.
Scrabble’s gameplay is intuitive and easy to learn, and it allows players to jump right into the actual game without any real need to go over the manual. Gameplay is primarily handled using the mouse as tiles are dragged into appropriate squares, with various in-game commands simply a click away. At the end of each turn, players can manually pick up the tiles or have the computer automate the action. Options include single player or multiplayer modes, allowing Internet gameplay or gameplay via a local area network (LAN). In Scrabble’s single player and LAN gameplay modes, the game allows players to add up to two computer or human opponents. Each computer opponent has an adjustable difficulty setting ranging from novice to expert, and players can also adjust the computer’s challenge level by setting a numeric value. Scrabble allows customized dictionaries to be incorporated, as well.
Adding to the traditional game of Scrabble, the computerized version enhances gameplay with hints, tile information, word guides, and tile rack organization, all located conveniently to the right of a player’s tile rack. Although the hints and guide options can be disabled in multiplayer mode, they can be quite instructive as the computer staggers word suggestions based on a player’s tile collection and the arrangement of the tiles in play. The guide cleverly offers word suggestions based on what’s available on a player’s tile rack, organizing them based on word point values, anagrams, consonant-heavy words and variations on the English language. The info button lists by letter, letter value, or simple tile numbers remaining in the game — a helpful tool for those who like to plan ahead and buck the odds for a great word play. The rack button allows words to be arranged alphabetically, descending and ascending in tile value, and by vowels in descending order to consonants. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the multiplayer function adds a whole new dimension to the game.
Westlake and MacSoft help to fill the Internet gaming gap that has plagued Macintosh users by supporting GameRanger, Scott Kevill’s free Mac-only online game service. Setting up multiplayer games is a snap with a GameRanger plug-in. The plug-in enables Scrabble users to chat with each other, join and host Scrabble games. Online Scrabble games via GameRanger worked flawlessly in our testing, allowing user chats, hilarious sounds used to razz opponents, and word challenges. Players can also limit the usage of the guide and info options to provide a more challenging gaming atmosphere.
Basic system requirements for Scrabble include: PowerPC 132MHz or faster; MacOS 8.1 or later; 32MB RAM (Virtual Memory may be required); 60MB hard disk space; 4X CD-ROM drive; display capable of thousands of colors at 800×600 pixels or greater.
We encountered some intermittent problems in player selection and set up that resulted in an occasional system error. Some of the longer MP3 audio files we tried tended to skip during playback or when switching to the Options screen. Westlake has an exemplary track record for resolving any problems with their games, however, so if these are reproducible problems, users should probably expect a fix.
After playing MacSoft’s conversion of Scrabble, players will be hard-pressed to return to their traditional wooden boxed sets. The game includes everything a die-hard Scrabble player could ever want and more. This age-old classic board game brought to the Macintosh introduces a whole new genre of online gaming to the Macintosh gaming community, siphoning off some of the more adult-oriented games into a time-tested traditional family game. Hats off to MacSoft and Westlake Interactive for yet another great offering and for humbling a reviewer with an English minor by the nefarious Scrabble computer opponent Maven. Going for US$29.99, the game is a veritable steal. But don’t think for an instant Scrabble is relegated to a simply sit down game with Grandma Wilson — bodies age, but minds can be as keen and incisive as Grandma laughing maniacally through the sound console yelling, “Triple word score THAT!”