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Cute graphics? Low system requirements? Addictive "Just one more...." gameplay? Yup, it's a new PopCap game. In Bookworm Adventures Volume 2 ($20, one-hour free trial), you once again control Lex, the bespectacled worm, as he travels from one literary locale to the next, spelling out words from a collection of random letters and defeating foes such as Papa Bear and Puss In Boots.
Bookworm Adventures Volume 2 isn't a simple spelling game with some graphics bolted on, though. As with its predecessor, Bookworm Adventures 2 adds in elements from role-playing games. You win magic items and potions as you travel, your Health Bar expands, and you gain more tactical options. You also face foes with more interesting powers.
Gameplay in Bookworm Adventures is very straightforward, and no reflexes are required, a blessing for the slowly graying gamer. On one side of the screen is you; on the other, your foe. Down below is a grid containing letters. Click some letters to spell out a word, and then press "Attack!" Your word flies across the screen, smacking the enemy. The longer your word and the more unusual letters (such as X) it uses, the more damage you do. (For you Warcraft players, think of "dog" as a green item, and "taxonomy" as a purple epic. Got it? Good.) In addition, various magic items change the value of a word. If you have Farmer Mac's Almanac, for example, adjectives do bonus damage. You are allowed only a small set of magic items on each level (though you never lose those you win and can swap them out between stages), so choose wisely!
The monsters you face will do things like stunning you (so you miss a turn), or, worse, messing with your tiles. They will cause some to be locked, some to deal no damage if you lose them, and worse. They may even change your tiles randomly, so that great word you almost had the letters for vanishes and you're left with nothing but a mix of "g," "c," and "k."
Complaints? A few. Popcap has a very distinctive style, and there's a point at which you really begin to suffer from cuteness overload. Bookworm Adventures teeters on that fine edge between "Cute" and "Cloying." More serious, at least to me, is that the game is not very challenging--or, to be fair, the first hour of gameplay isn't. I made it to the final boss of the third chapter of the first world with a full shelf of health potions and having not died once during the prior game. Playing beyond the initial demo, I finally died in a boss battle in the second "World." It may get harder yet--I know the Penny Arcade guys love this game, and they're "133t"--but it would be nice to feel a bit more stress early on. Constantly losing is no fun--but constantly winning isn't a whole lot more fun. Popcap makes casual games and aims for an audience with a low tolerance for frustration, and that's fine, but a difficulty slider would be nice.
This aside, any gamer who likes word games such as Boggle and Scrabble will probably love Bookworm Adventures Volume 2.