In much the same way as their 2002 version of Monopoly put a new spin on that traditional board game, Infogrames's release of Scrabble Crossword Game Complete brings new features to the venerable and popular word game. Play against the computer opponent Professor Maven, solitaire (single player), or join up to three other human players via hot seat or multiplayer (network and Internet) options.
Though the box advertises over a dozen challenging Scrabble mini-games for increasing vocabulary skills, the manual lists and explains only the following ten: 2-Letter Words, 3-Letter Words, Suffixes, Prefixes, Word Placement, Best Play, Anagrams, Hook Words, Bingos, and Blitz. All games played by logged-in players are tracked by Professor Maven, with analyses of individual play styles and word knowledge offered as a way to increase skills.
Customization settings in Scrabble Crossword Game Complete include options like showing Maven's tiles, auto challenges, challenge penalties, timers, timing penalties, hints, guides, creating and enabling a custom dictionary, and a tournament mode that automatically turns off most customization features. Individual player records are tracked and a choice of board types, special effects, tile sets, and backgrounds are available. Various topical guides offer suggestions, word listings, anagrams, stem words, Q without a U words, hook words, words using the tough letters (J, Q, X, Z), vowel dumps, diagrams, and consonants.
In addition to the Merriam-Webster's Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Scrabble Crossword Game Complete also includes a bonus game, Boggle, another word search game. Boggle features five types of gameplay: Classic, Breakaway, Battle, Space, and In Your Face, with LAN and Internet play also available.
If a friend asked you to sum up Scrabble Complete in a few sentences, you could simply say, "It's basically just Scrabble. It also comes with Boggle, but otherwise...it's Scrabble." That's because although it's a no-frills computer-game translation of the classic Hasbro board game, and though it has a few minigames as well as a completely free computer-game version of Boggle, Scrabble Complete is basically just Scrabble, which, if you're a fan of the challenging board game it's based on, is a good thing.
The popular board game Scrabble lets up to four players randomly choose a number of letter tiles, then attempt to make words on the board using their own letters and those in the words that other players have already spelled out, much like a crossword puzzle. Different letters are worth different point values (for instance, the letter "Q" can be relatively difficult to place, so it's worth a whopping 10 points, as opposed to the letter "T," which is worth only one point), and players can use certain spaces on the board to multiply the score value for the words they place.
Scrabble Complete apparently supports multiplayer play over the Internet on a direct IP connection or using a third-party application, but we weren't able to find any opponents online. Fortunately, the game lets you play with up to three computer-controlled opponents with six levels of difficulty, and the toughest difficulty, champion, is extremely smart and will give most Scrabble fans a run for their money. Unfortunately, players aren't represented by avatars of any kind or with any speech samples, so unless you can find someone to play a game with on the same computer, playing Scrabble Complete will seem like a pretty solitary experience.
In addition to the main game, Scrabble Complete also comes with several minigames that are essentially word puzzles; most are pretty simplistic, but a few are challenging enough to try out a few times. In both the standard and minigame modes, Scrabble Complete has an in-game dictionary that lets you look up the words you and your opponents have placed.
Scrabble Complete doesn't look like much. The game uses rather dated 2D graphics for its menus and to depict the game board. However, the game's menus are intuitive and easy to use, and they're certainly effective. You might say the same for Scrabble Complete's rather sparse sound; the game has a few forgettable sound effects when you place tiles or occasionally get a huge score from a good word, but otherwise, the game's audio largely consists of a series of bland muzak tracks that might have been taken straight from an elevator, but they are largely inoffensive, too.
You might think that this review would now move on to discuss the included Boggle game that comes with Scrabble Complete, but there isn't much to say in that regard. Scrabble Complete comes packaged with the same version of Boggle that was released in 1997, and it even has the logos from the now-defunct Hasbro Interactive written all over it. It's a decent play if you're a Boggle fan, but the game clearly shows its age--it defaults to playing in windowed mode, for instance.
Still, the game of Scrabble is probably the main reason why anyone would download Scrabble Complete. And Scrabble Complete does a pretty competent job with the translation from board game to computer game, even if it isn't spectacular.
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