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Review: 'Bookworm Adventures' wordsmith's joy

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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With such celebrated puzzlers as "Bejeweled," "Zuma," "Inasaniquarium," "Chuzzle" and "Feeding Frenzy 2," PopCap Games has more than earned its reputation as a trusted PC games publisher.

The company has done it again with its latest downloadable diversion: "Bookworm Adventures Deluxe."

This clever word game serves as a sequel to PopCap's 3-year-old hit, "Bookworm," but adds a lengthy story with plenty of humor, and cleverly folds in role-playing game (RPG) elements to keep you glued to your computer monitor.

In case you've never played "Bookworm," the core game play in "Bookworm Adventures Deluxe" involves a 4-by-4 grid of randomly placed letters and it's your job to create words out of them.

Unlike PopCap's "Bonnie's Bookstore," the letters you click to make a word do not need to be adjacent to one another. The longer the word or the higher the letter value (think "Scrabble"), the more points you'll earn.

Our hapless hero is a tiny green worm named Lex (short for Lexicon, perhaps?), and in the main Adventure mode he is magically zapped into books to confront a threat to the Great Library. The tale spans 30 chapters in all, each with a different theme as our little bookworm traverses a huge map to confront enemies of all shapes and sizes.

Confused about how a word game mixes in fighting bad guys? Here's how it works:

While you create words with letters from the middle of the screen, Lex faces off against foes at the top, be they ancient Roman soldiers, mystical Sirens or sea serpents onboard a ship -- or even angry ewes.

Depending on the word you create, Lex charges his enemy and inflicts damage. The enemy then takes a turn and retaliates. If your word is just so-so, such as P-E-A-R-S, then you may only take away one heart (symbolizing health level) from above the enemy's head.

But if it's a good one, such as Q-U-A-I-N-T or U-N-A-L-T-E-R-E-D, then expect to finish the monster off by taking away two-and-a-half or three hearts of a total of five. This game offers more than 150 different enemies, each with a unique look, fighting style and short description.

Besides the turn-based combat, another RPG element is "leveling up." After defeating enemies, your leveling up bar begins to fill up. Eventually, Lex earns an overall strength increase in one area, such as health. This is a terrific idea because you will always want to grow stronger to defeat the increasingly tough opponents and stronger "boss characters" (the biggest or meanest enemy at the end of each chapter).

You will also earn treasures from time to time, which assist you in future battles. This may come in the form of The Bow of Zyx, which boosts words using letters X, Y or Z. The Golden Fleece treasure grants Lex an extra heart for a short period of time (be sure to click on this treasure when your health is low during a fight).

Enemies may do things such as stun you badly enough that you miss a turn, or stomp on the ground and cause one of the tiles to crack. You can still use a cracked tile to make a word but its points won't count when inflicting damage. You'll also come across power-ups such as gems, magic potions and other aids to help Lex prevail.

As if all of this wasn't enough, completing the main story mode unlocks a speedy Arena mode and three secret minigames.

"Bookworm Adventures Deluxe" is a fantastic, family-friendly pick for word game fanatics. Don't take our word for it -- download the free trial version at www.popcap.com.

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