When the main character of a XBLA title is called Wordsworth the Owl, videogame alarm bells start ringing. KrissX, a release from Regolith Games Ltd, is an anagram based puzzler that sees players solve word oriented quizzes, presented by our avian lexicon.
The first thing to do once past the usual logos, is turn the music off, or maybe put on something that consists of more than two guitar chords, and from here it's time to enter the quest mode. There are other game-types available, namely Time Attack, Timeless, Special Puzzles (where the expert challenges sit) and the ability to play downloaded puzzles. However, those expecting to be able to try them off the bat will be disappointed; only by progressing through the main quest are the extras unlocked.
First time through will present the tutorial and a brief story. Skip them both; unless your IQ drops below that of shoe boxes, it's unlikely you'll gain any kind of insight by sitting through either. Finally it's into the game proper, and facing the player is a grid of a few jumbled up words of four or five letters; things are initially pretty easy. Not only that, but a tool-tip clue will pop-up every time the cursor moves to a different anagram (or by pressing the left shoulder button), making things ever more obvious. If you get really stuck, it's possible to press the right shoulder button and the game will simply tell you which tiles to swap, albeit a limited number of times – but you won't ever use this being the human dictionary you are, and besides it'll take any credibility as a word master away.
These initial puzzles will present little challenge, except perhaps to drunk slugs. For example, an early puzzle offers up the letters PEATL, informing the player via the clue that it's “Like Leaf” - if you haven't figured out that the answer is PETAL by now, give yourself a thump square in the face.
For each word solved, points are awarded – solve all in the grid and there will be an appraisal of efforts. A higher score is earned for being quick and accurate, and the badges awarded at the end of each round will increase from bronze through to platinum, leading to the previously mentioned game modes being unlocked and the occasional achievement. Solve several words in quick succession and a multiplier bonus is there to be had.
Work through a couple more puzzles and the game introduces the token concept. When a jumbled puzzle or word is unscrambled, tokens will fall from various points on the screen. In order to collect them, the player must press the blue, yellow or red button on the controller to match the colour of the token dropping down to give some bonus points. Press the wrong one however, or let them drift off the screen and that bonus is lost; this turns out to be more challenging than solving the riddles at times.
A number of puzzles later and an additional challenge type called “word grid” is brought into the fold. Here a rectangle of tiles is shown on screen, but letters may only be swapped vertically to solve the horizontal lexeme, a little bit trickier, but still no Mensa membership for completing them.
The backdrops across each level are pretty much inoffensive and sometimes have animation to them; things such as a gently drifting hot-air-balloon or falling autumn leaves. Tiles are tile like with bold fonts and nicely anti-aliased lettering leaving no sight of jaggedness. Wordsworth himself looks nothing like the long-dead famous poet, mostly because he's a cartoon Owl. Now and again, should you put down the controller, Wordy will himself fall asleep, leading to a pleasing animated Zzzzzzz. He even snores, no expense spared. Okay, it's a puzzle game, not Alessandra Ambrosio's face, but it works just fine.
Further puzzling leads to a couple more concepts such as missing letters, limited time levels, and even having to sort letters in reverse alphabetical order, so make sure you know your ZYXs. Marching ever forward means bigger puzzles, longer words, tighter time limits and more than one letter swaps. By level forty things start to get a little bit more interesting, and may even begin to stretch you by a further three syllables.
KrissX is a game that is very easy to dismiss simply from the trial version. The first twenty or so puzzles are quite trivial and will leave the gamer with an impression of “Is that it?”. It turns out that, as further progress is made through the levels, KrissX becomes a challenging, engaging game, that's actually quite delightful. It's not going to be everyone's cup-of-tea though, so if you can't stand the newspaper crossword, chances are you won't like this either. With over a 150 puzzles and several different game modes, 800 Microsoft points feels like good value for money. Try it, it might actually surprise you.