Review: Boggle Plus (Game Boy)

In this review, we brush up on our vocabulary in the Game Boy game Boggle Plus. We find out how well this puzzle game plays.

This game was released in 1992. It is based off of two different word games of the same name.

There are 5 different games to play. Two of them are based on the physical Boggle game. The remaining three are exclusive to the game itself.

In a regular round of Boggle, you get a standard 4×4 grid of letters. What those letters are are basically randomized. The goal is to take those letters and form words. The words must be three letters long or more. For three and four letter words, you get 1 point. For 5 letter words, you get two points. For 6 letter words, you get 3 points. For 7 letter words, the points begin to jump as you earn 5 points. For any word 8 letters or more nets you a massive 11 points.

You can play by yourself or with up to four additional computer players. If you do choose to play with opponents, then there is an added challenge. That challenge is that if you get the same word as the opponent, the word is crossed off and neither player gets any points for it. All of the words you uniquely got are what points you get at the end of each match.

You can play a single round or in a tournament style. In tournament, you can set the number of points required to win. 100 points is a very standard number, but you do get a very wide range (it’s the suggested total for the physical version). Players play successive rounds until the goal points are accumulated for a victory.

Boggle Plus, meanwhile, plays much like the normal Boggle, but with a few key differences. Instead of a 4×4 grid, players get to work with a 5×5 grid. While that may sound like a game that is easier, three letter words no longer count. In this game, you are stuck with finding four letter words or more. Four letter words are worth a mere 1 point. 5 words are worth a decent 2 points. 6 letter words are worth a sizeable 3 points. The 7 and 8 letter words are probably worth the same as regular Boggle.

In both Boggle and Boggle Plus, you can square off against computer opponents. There are four “top floor” and four “bottom floor” players to choose from. Presumably, the top floor players are harder to compete against than the bottom floor players. The game doesn’t necessarily make it clear if there is a further difficulty range between them, but there does appear to be some differences between them.

What gets interesting is how the players actually play. Sometimes, you find the more experienced opponents struggling to find some longer words. Meanwhile, the players that are supposed to be easier can find the odd 7 letter word whopper. There is that sense of unpredictability, but as a general rule, they, on average, measure up to what the difficulty suggests in the long run. So, don’t always count on easy players being easy in game or hard players being hard in the same match. However, if you take them on in the tournament, expect them to live up to their difficulty definitions.

While the odd break of character here and there sounds like an odd programming glitch, in actuality, this gives the game a sense of realism. Sometimes, beginner players do find huge words by fluke. Other times, more experiences players will struggle with the odd puzzle here and there. So, really, this is a well thought out quirk in the game more than anything else.

The third game available to players is Anagram. In this game, letters are laid out in a 5×5 grid. The number depends on the difficulty you set. The game will spit out letters at random and it is up to you to find the word using all of the cubes. You still have to follow the rules of Boggle, so you can’t skip over cubes in the process of spelling out words. This, ultimately, helps the player as it narrows down possibilities.

Categories is a trickier game. This game offers the largest grid in the entire game. A number of letters are placed on the board. The game challenges you to come up with three words in the set that fits into a category. Examples of this include political offices and snacks. While the game asks for three, there’s usually at least 6 to be found. This game is ultimately more of a word search with Boggle rules, only you don’t get the answer words.

The final game is called Use All. You go back to the 5×5 grid. The big difference here is that if you find a word, the cubes get eliminated. As a result, you run the risk of forming 1 or 2 cube islands. The good news is that you are afforded an option to scramble the cubes. So, if there is still a bunch of cubes, it’s possible to scramble them in order to squeeze more words out of the puzzle.

In the last few educational games – and word games for that matter – it was hard for me to really find value in such games. This is definitely a game that makes a strong case for the existence of word games. What’s even better is that this is one of those games that can work extremely well when you are traveling for long distances. The random nature of this game allows for practically unlimited replay value, yet you can set the rules so you can decide how long games should go on. It works to a very surprisingly effective degree.

Having said that, this game isn’t without flaws. The biggest flaw I found with the game revolves around pausing. When you pause the game for just about every other game, the game is paused full stop. In this game, if you hit pause, you call up a menu. The timer keeps going. From the menu, you have to select the option to pause the game. I seriously wonder what the developers were thinking when they thought of this. Pause buttons should really mean the game is paused. I think this is a huge design fault in the game.

Another thing with this game is the fact that this game assumes you have a good vocabulary skill going in. Even the easy opponents I played against seem like they have some pretty good skill. This more or less limits the game to players who have at least a half decent grasp on vocabulary.

As for the stronger opponents, even with my skills in this game (and my experience with words is where some of my personal strengths are), the opponents really gave me a run for my money. So, unless you are easily bored with how easy difficult crossword puzzles are, chances are, you can find some serious challenge with the harder opponents. I routinely find words in the opponents lists that I haven’t even heard of.

Since this game has five different games, it’s probably predictable I was going to find games that work better than others. For me, Boggle, Boggle Plus, and Anagram work very well. Categories and Use All? Not so much. The words are annoyingly specific in Categories. Meanwhile, Use All keeps the time limit to two minutes. I usually use most of the cubes within about 30 seconds. Even after some more annoying scrambles, chances are, I’m finding myself twiddling my thumbs for the remaining minute or so. This is because I have a random cube hanging out either in a corner or in the middle and I’ve lost any chance of using it up. So, this game grows boring quickly.

Still, the strength of the better games is quite pronounced. I could spend hours on the first three games. This more or less compensates for the weaknesses in the remaining two.

Generally speaking, the idea of this being a travel game is just perfect. The Boggle, Boggle Plus, and Anagram games are both addicting, yet you can control how long you play. For an additional challenge, you can take on opponents with varying skills that have an interesting degree of realism. The pause menu system is a critical flaw in the games design. Use All and categories end up being just weak games in comparison. Even then, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had here.

The graphics are interesting to judge. On the one hand, there isn’t a whole lot of eye candy to be had here. On the other hand, how much more quality could you possibly stuff into this game given what is already in here in the first place? It is possible that the game could have used more texture on the outside of the play space. It also could have used some kind of shake animation (or just lifting of the lid) While it’s easy to say the graphics are terrible, it’s hard to come up with anything more than just mild improvements. Characters are decently rendered, though.

The audio is decent. The intro music is bright and cheery. The in-game silence is definitely needed for this particular kind of game. It could have used more music in some of the menus though. Instead of repeating the music between rounds, different tracks could have been employed to indicate different rankings in, say, the tournament. The chimes indicating what time you have left works well. The sound effects, in general, are pretty decent for a game like this.

Overall, this is a game that offers almost unlimited replay value. There are some flaws with the design such as the pause button not able to, alone, pause the game. Some of the games such as Categories and Use Call don’t quite stack up, but the other three games are able to carry some of the slack left behind. The ability to determine game length makes this a great game for travel. While it’s easy to dismiss the graphics, it’s not exactly easy to think of anything that would do more than mildly improve the look of it. There could have been more variety in the music, but the sound effects works nicely. An overall solid game to play.

Furthest point in game:
Boggle (Won in 5 player game with mixed opponents. Finished 2nd with the hardest opponents)
Boggle Plus (2nd place in 5 player game of mixed opponents)

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 10/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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