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AlphaBattle: Word fun needing GUI tweaks

For just $0.99, AlphaBattle [iTunes link] from Redwind Software offers fun word-based game play. Letter tiles appear on screen, scrolling from the top and from the bottom. It's up to you to make words from those tiles in order to clear rows before the collide against the middle and end the game for you.

You can play the game in several modes with 1-, 3-, 5- and unlimited-minute gameplay. Each game offers one or more "save" buttons at the bottom, which can be used to shuffle, stop, or clear rows off the board -- extending the game past the inevitable deadlocks.

The idea is clever and the gameplay challenging. All in all, this is a game with an excellent idea and good bones. Unfortunately, the actual execution does not live up to the promise. Let me tell you a few reasons why.

Many of those deadlocks I mentioned occur because you tend to end up with all "I"s in the vowel section (in the blue, at the top of the screen) and Q's, X's, and K's at the bottom. These are really frustrating situations because simple algorithm tweaks should limit access to less usable letters, having them appear as challenges rather than having them build up over time as nuisances.

Although I like the magic "green" tiles that help clear stuck rows off the screen but I found the game went so fast that it was really too hard to plan your way towards reaching these tiles. The game pace just doesn't lend itself to that kind of strategy. I also found that at many times I'd exhaust the vowels and have to wait for new ones to scroll on-screen, all the time as my consonants were creeping up to the white bar of doom. The game really needs timing and pacing adjustments to better improve the user experience.

The graphics, as you can see, are pretty limited. A light design touch would really help make the game more appealing, as would a slower advance rate and better letter selection algorithms. But what really got on my nerves was the poor responsiveness to the two mandatory swipe patterns used by the game: you swipe left to clear your word, you swipe right to submit it. Often, these swipes simply weren't recognized.

Worse, the game often missed the first tapped letters. My words would start with the second letter I'd tapped, which meant I'd have to clear the word and try again, losing valuable game time. That kind of GUI fail interferes too severely with game play and really needs fixing.

I really wanted to love AlphaBattle. There's a lot there that's worthy of love. But until the developer cleans up the application's quirks, I'm afraid I can't recommend it yet as a must-buy. If you want to see what the game is all about, however, there's a free "Lite" version you can try without commitment.

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