What’s the Phrase (iOS) review

What's The PhraseWhat’s The Phrase is a new iOS game from Zynga — specifically, the team behind the successful With Friends series. As usual for the series, the game is available in both free and paid incarnations, with the paid version being ad-free and providing players with additional in-game currency.

Like most of the other With Friends games, What’s The Phrase is based rather closely on an existing, established game format — in this case, the TV show Wheel of Fortune. The basic aim of the game is for players to guess a phrase on a given category by guessing letters and winning points — either for correct letter guesses or completely solving the puzzle.

Players have the option of viewing a tutorial before they start playing for real, in which the basic mechanics are introduced but a few key rules — such as the “three moves per turn” limitation — are not mentioned explicitly. Players may then begin a game by either inviting their Facebook friends — if they have connected the game to the social network, obviously — or challenging a random opponent. There is no apparent means of playing a challenge game against the computer.

When starting a new game, users have the option of playing one of several categories or sending their friend a custom puzzle of their own devising. If playing from a preset category, players take it in turns to take three moves and guess letters from the phrase, scoring varying numbers of points by spinning a wheel with each guess. Players may also “buy a vowel” for a few coins at a time, though this counts as one of their three moves. Once three moves have been taken, players have the option of handing the board over to their opponent, attempting to solve the phrase — which doesn’t seem to carry any penalties if incorrect — or using a powerup. Powerups include an extra turn, automatically revealing a consonant on the board, eliminating a single letter from the player’s own selection of letters, and setting score-sapping “bomb” traps on the other player’s keyboard. At the end of three rounds, the player with most points wins — though players only get to keep their points if they solve the phrase. Earned points contribute to a meter that gradually fills with each completed round; filling the meter rewards the player with additional coins which can subsequently be spent on new powerups, categories, vowels or items that help unlock new categories.

The custom game feature works a little differently, and does not form part of the game’s main competitive mode, so there are no scores or coins to worry about. Instead, one player submits a custom phrase and hint to the other player, at which point the guessing player must choose a selection of consonants and vowels and then attempt to guess the complete phrase. Play is then, for some reason, passed back to the person who originally set the challenge rather than allowing the guessing player to send a phrase back.

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 8.26.44 AMWhat’s The Phrase is a simple game that works well, and it’s easily one of the most well-presented With Friends games, with plenty of animations and music to keep things interesting. It’s strongly social, too, with the usual asynchronous chat facility from the other games in the series as well as the custom game option, which is ideal for in-jokes. The game also takes a cue from the immensely popular What’s The Word? 4 Pics 1 Word and allows users to share a screenshot on Facebook in an attempt to recruit the assistance of their friends.

As good as the game is, though, like most of the other With Friends titles shortly after launch, it feels like it needs a little refinement and polish. The fact that there’s nothing stopping players just guessing any old gibberish for the phrase at the end of the turn without penalty seems like something of an oversight, for example, and there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to delete games from your list where your opponent has been inactive for a while or that you simply don’t wish to play any more. There’s also nothing stopping a single opponent from spamming you with several game requests at a time, either — something which happened during testing.

These issues aside, though, What’s The Phrase has the potential to be a strong performer for Zynga’s With Friends series after a few recent missteps — it just needs a bit of spit and polish to get to where it should be.

You can follow What’s The Phrase’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.

Wait

Looks set to be a new asynchronous hit, but needs just a little polish to be recommended without reservations.

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