Vermont Digital Arts' Waggle Words, Atmospheric Elegance

The last great app game to come out of Vermont was James Kochalka's Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork, a wonderful 16-bit-emulating adventure mashup with delightful results. Late last year the Guilford game and AR studio Vermont Digital Arts released Waggle Words, a very different and strongly realized contender for the title.

Waggle Words is a word hunt puzzle game that has clever mechanics built in to help the player drive the action forward. Built within around the concept of a bee hive, the UI is a glowing, warm amber and rouge palette. The sound design features a kind of moody buzzing of busy if introspective bees. Waggle Words can be enjoyed in three modes: Casual, Daily Challenge, and Speed. For this review, we definitely stuck to the Casual mode (go ahead, try the Speed mode if you dare). We started on an iPhone 5s and quickly migrated to an iPad; we don't recommend that you try this on anything smaller than the 5.5-inches provided by the iPhone 7.

The Waggle Words UI, photo courtesy of Vermont Digital Arts

The basic concept of Waggle Words is familiar: connect letters in strings ("streaks" in Wagglespeak) to form words. You will use your finger to draw a path to connecting letters in any order -- they just have to be serially connected and you can't double back over a letter. The goal is simple: eliminate as many letters from the board as you can while making the longest words that you can. As you connect letter tiles into words they are removed from the board with points assigned for length, the value of the letters used, an whether any bonuses are captured on the way. But wait. There are twists, and this is where the mechanics get a little more addictive.

Each game has a dock with special plays (we're going to call them "action tokens") that help to get a user out a pinch; these tokens are earned as you advance in score during game play. They include the ability advance a letter tile to the next letter in the alphabet (from, say, D to E); that same ability but backward; the ability to swap places between two tiles; and my personal favorite, the "Swarm," which enables all orphaned tiles to coalesce around a honeycomb cell assigned by the player. This essentially provides an in-game reset if you've gotten stuck by having a lot of unconnected tiles.

Three views of the "Swarm" token in action within AR mode. Photo courtesy of Vermont Digital Games.

Rewarding animation and gorgeous sound design heightens the interaction and atmosphere in the game; available in an augmented reality version for the iPhoneX, we can see this beautifully rendered game catch on in a VR mode where gestures replace fingered interaction for an irresistible experience in word making. While some of the dynamics are a little laggy -- letter swaps for example -- the experience is one of thoughtful, deliberative and engaging play. Waggle Words doesn't feel rushed although it is resource-intensive and will drain the battery in a few games, so quick moves serve the player well.

Waggle Words appears to be powered by a familiar Scrabble dictionary and does not allow for two-letter word pairs. Its a great educational tool that provides a leaderboard and solid stack of performance metrics at the end of each game. These would be helpful for any teacher looking for ways to track and reward the development of student spelling skill.

Vermont Digital Arts is a husband and wife duo from Guilford, Vermont and Waggle Words is their second release to the iTunes App store. They have produced a lovely game for word lovers that is #4 in the word games category and has a rating of 4.6. Waggle Words retails for $4.99 and is well worth the spend.


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