Get off your ass. Go outside. Play some Seek ‘n Spell. We previewed Seek ‘n Spell at E3 in May, and it won my “biggest surprise of the show” by far. It was one of the most creative and unique games I’ve seen on the iPhone then, and still is. The game makes fantastic use of the iPhones GPS, data, and map features. Oh yeah, and be warned: this game will kick your butt, and help you burn some calories in the process.
Seek N Spell is a game that requires 3 things: clear skies, a park, and friends. Because of this, it took me a while before I could actually get together and play the game, hence the long time before posting this review. When you get to the park, the game will automatically detect your friends as they join the game on their phones. In fact, it’s really impressive how fast this whole process is. As you start the game, you’ll see a GPS image of your surroundings, and letters are dropped at random locations. As you move to the location of the letters in the real world, your iPhone will update your information on the game map, and you will collect the letter.
The goal of the game is to spell words with the letters you pickup. It’s a tough task to run and spell! You get points based on the complexity/length of the word, and there are also gold letters that give a point bonus. It’s especially fun when you and your friends both sprint for the gold letter at the same time, and it becomes a literal race. You set your own time limit for the game, and I can assure you that between 5 and 10 minutes is long enough! I was beat after just a 6 minute game, as the game is nothing but sprinting from one point to another. During the game, you see the markers of other players on the map, as well as what words they have played, and how many points they have, all updated in *almost* real-time.
The fact that Seek n Spell encourages sprinting and outdoor activity is a big plus for the game, but it can also be its downfall. I definitely had a lot of fun when I played, as did Justin (new writer for the site). But we were ready to go after just 2 games. This is because the game area on the map is much larger than it first appears. This game REALLY needs an option to choose how big the playing field is. It could be fun to have a walking-only game with a smaller map, or a huge epic game with a giant map, using bikes or other equipment. Can you imagine an hour long scavenger-type game using cars to drive around and find letters?! That would rock.
It would also be great to have some sort of system to see who has the game in your area, and host meet-ups to play with others. It was tough to find a day when I could meet up with multiple friends, which is why I was only able to play with just one. Although the game has a great little “find parks” button, it would also be nice to have a “find people” button. There is a basic forum on the official site to do this, but I’m not a fan of the “out-of-game” experience with having to visit a website. (That and most people are too lazy to post on a forum.)
Another possible downside is the fact that Seek N Spell relies completely on a good GPS and 3G connection. So if you’re in an area with bad service, or for some reason there is some issue with the network, the game isn’t great. However, in my experience, everything has worked very well, with the game updating only a few seconds after you pass over a letter area, as well as showing you the direction you’re running. Sometimes I got a bit confused with where I was, but as long as you rotate the phone relative to where you are, it’s fine. The game definitely needs to be updated to take advantage of the 3GS compass, as instantly seeing the direction your marker is pointing will make the game a lot more accessible.
Presentation & Graphics
Graphics and animations are well done. The interface is easy to use, which is key since most of it is done while running!
Sound effects are clear and pleasing. This is important, since when you start running, you will listen for the sound that indicates you have picked up a letter.
Unique, fun, but also quite tiring due to the large play area. This game would rock if it had the ability to choose the size of the play field, number of letters to be dropped, etc. Right now there is no way to casually play the game. You’re pretty much in it for a workout, which is great, as long as everyone else is down to get sweaty! Even though my experience with the GPS/3G updating was very impressive, there is always a bit of lag in picking up letters, and updating the game map. Sometimes this can be confusing.
This is certainly a game that I will try to play again in the future. However, since it’s only a social game, and the game doesn’t provide a way to easily find players who live in your city, it is not one you’ll be able to play very often, unless you have a group of 3G or 3GS iPhone-owning friends who enjoy outdoor activity (you lucky person, you).
Seek ‘n Spell is unlike any game you’ve ever played… anywhere, and it’s a game you can play practically anywhere! (Although I wouldn’t recommend doing so on a busy street.) It’s perfect if you and your friends are looking for something to do on a lazy afternoon, and you don’t mind some healthy physical activity. However, because it’s limited to parks and locations with a strong GPS/3G connection, it could hinder some from enjoying it (including everyone who doesn’t own a 3G or 3GS iPhone). Even though the game is fun as is, it is in bad need of an update with gameplay options and features that take advantage of the new 3GS. Can I recommend it for $2.99? Certainly! Just make sure you know other people who will be buying it as well.