WordJong

WordJong is Scrabble with options. Players drill down through a stack of tiles by spelling words. New letters come into play as tiles are cleared, and they can be added to the word being assembled. Eventually, the pyramid is reduced to a final handful of letters—this is where the game feels the most puzzle-like. Strategic use of letters is key, or you'll get stuck with a pile of useless consonants. Words are scored by length and use of rarer letters. This angle will appeal to hardcore vocabulary dorks, who will rise to the challenge of wringing the maximum number of points out of each deal.

Already popular on PCs, WordJong works nicely as a portable game. The puzzles are bite-sized and easy to jump in and out of when everyday distractions demand that the DS return to your pocket. WordJong is also surprisingly well-rounded for a bargain-priced game. Casual players will find a new "Daily Puzzle" unlocked every day, while the competitive can take their talent for anagrams online to battle against other players. In these face-offs, players take turns selecting tiles from the same stack, scoring words until the last tile is drawn. In theory, a game this obscure shouldn't be terribly popular with the online gaming crowd, but the players are out there, and some of them are really good. It's unusual for a low-budget Nintendo DS game like WordJong to come with fully functional online and local wireless play. It's even rarer for a cheap game to be this robust and thoughtfully assembled.

Beyond the game: WordJong riffs on the "turtle-style" tile stacking of Mah Jong solitaire, a game PC gamers may remember from knock-offs like Taipei and Shanghai.

Worth playing for: Solo players can undo their steps, rethink strategies, and experiment with multiple approaches. This casual, punishment-free approach makes puzzling all the more relaxing.

Frustration sets in when: There's an infuriating nine-letter ceiling on word length. Cleaning up the last scraps of tiles frequently requires using iffy two-letter words. And what dictionary doesn't recognize the word "Monday"?

Final judgment: For those who haven't taken the New York Times Crossword puzzle out of their handheld in six months.

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