March 13th, 2005


Game: MSN Upwords

Short review: MSN Upwords sucks.

Why? The interface is ugly and slow, all special effects and no usability. The AI is dreadful, with no idea of strategic play even on the high levels; the only difference between low levels and high is that it's tuned so that the average AI score is higher as you go up. It's completely uncustomizable (other than the ability to set the AI level). It has no facility for human versus human play. You can't turn off the 'offensive words' filter; you can set it to 'lenient' rather than 'strict', but even the lenient version disallows such words as dork, popish and is generally annoying with its prissy little error messages. Oh, and it has a weird bug so that it quite often mis-calculates whether you have used up all your letters or not, and as Upwords penalizes very heavily for letters left in the rack at the end, this often makes the difference between loss and victory.

But the suckiest of sucky things about it is that it uses the Encarta dictionary. The Encarta dictionary is a second-rate dictionary to start with, and it's particularly bad for word games. It doesn't include most of the standard 2lws. And more to the point, because it is designed for looking words up, rather than word games, it doesn't have most variants of words listed as separate entries. So it can usually cope with plurals, but not with adding -er, -ed, re-, un- etc to even the most common words. And since prefixes, suffixes and 2lws comprise most of the strategic basis of Upwords, the game is nearly unplayable.

The reason I'm particularly annoyed with how bad this version is is that Microsoft, being Microsoft, have done a pretty thorough job of killing off every other online or downloadable version of Upwords on the whole internet. There used to be a good online verison at, and I miss that. Yes, I know Hasbro owns the licence to Upwords and they're entitled to restrict distribution of it to Microsoft if they want to. But I'm still very annoyed about the Hobson's choice between paying $20 for a really crap version of the game, and no game at all. And the only way to play networked games is via MSN messenger, same crappy version and requiring a fairly hefty monthly subscription. Grrr.

Oh, and from my last post, there seems to be a consensus in favour of the purple version of my journal, so it's purple for a while. The font is quite small but it's scalable if you don't like it.
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