Quarrel Review (Xbox360)

As iPhones and Android devices continue to grow in popularity, it's become pretty much impossible to get away from word games. For such a cheap price, many provide a quick thrill and challenge that makes them unforgivably moreish. Not many make the leap from smart-phone app to the big screen of the Xbox Live Arcade, but Quarrel has its big boy boots on, aiming to stamp out the competition and assert itself as one of 2012's must have downloadable titles.

Opting for a formula that combines the wordplay of Scrabble alongside the strategic elements of Risk, this title immediately outlines itself as something a little different. As the name suggests, Quarrel loves to place you in some dramatic encounters.

Graphics are beautifully colourful; the perfect tone for a spot of word-making

The premise is deceptively simple, as a plot of land is divided up into smaller sections which house team members from anything between 2-4 players. The aim of the game is to take over all the sub-sections, eliminating the presence of any pesky neighbours. How is an argument settled? By making words, of course! Eight letters are shown on screen, and are given their values via the Collins Scrabble Dictionary. Interestingly, the greater wordsman may not always take the prize, as the length of your word depends on how many of your team occupy that particular part of the field. Each player takes it in turn to attack, choosing who to pit against one-another. Have a group of 5 sat next to a 4? The odds are in your favour. Beating a team when you're on the attack will take over the land, leaving one man in the original section to keep it defended. Once an attack comes to an end, reinforcements are brought into play, meaning you can spread your team across the board with great confidence. The more battles you win, the more members of your quirky little tribe appear to help the cause.

Of course, many opportunities for risk and reward arise throughout each match. Every player has a Word I.Q indicating how strong their average score is. It's often a decent idea to take on poor players with less of a team, as you won't be surprised in beating an awful competitor like Caprice or Dwayne without strength in numbers. When taking on tougher enemies, you'll almost certainly need to match their force. It's not uncommon to make a great word and lose out because your opposite had one extra member to utilise, thus placing an 'S' on the end of your offering. While this can be frustrating, it underlines how pivotal your strategy is. Tackle the wrong people at the wrong time, and your army of followers will be gobbled up quickly.

Expect to take over land often, then lose it, then take it, then lose it, then...

This kind of gameplay is consistently challenging, but it shows itself to have some problems. Typically, there's plenty of back and forth between similarly skilled players, meaning the length of a match can be rather extensive. Games can last anywhere between 5 minutes to over an hour, making it a bad choice if you've only got a handful of minutes to spare. When playing against more than one A.I controlled opponent, the game becomes irritatingly predictable. The player with the highest I.Q almost always wins, even if he has less letters to use than his neighbour. Even if their I.Q ratings are close, expect the higher one to win. This really takes away from the title, as there's no sense of surprise. If you're scheduled to have your turn last in a match, expect the best player to have taken control by the time it gets to you. Not only is this particularly boring, it makes the game a whole lot harder. Opponents that you'd comfortably beat 1-on-1 get the advantage, making the difficulty of many showdowns cheaper than it should be.

Playing online, Quarrel succumbs to the censorship of Xbox Live. Profanities that would be accepted offline can no longer be played, making the dictionary an inconsistent one. When you're rushing to churn out a word this can become a minor problem. As every set of letters can be made into at least one anagram, in certain cases, it becomes unplayable. Quarrel loves to give definitions of words that have been found, or indeed missed, but Microsoft's strict rules mean plenty of legitimate inclusions are pushed to one side. It's only a small issue, but one that has the habit of popping up at the worst time.

Taking advantage of the high-scoring letters will always set you towards victory

Despite these shortcomings, Quarrel has a lot going for it. Playing with friends is hugely fun, especially when each match gets down to the nitty-gritty. Those who like a challenge will find extreme value in the 400MSP they've spent, as there's a generous amount of single-player content on offer. At times the overzealous sound of the game can become distorted and out of sync, but this usually evens itself out within a few seconds. There's so much fanfare and charm to admire, there simply isn't time to care.

As a straight-port with added multiplayer, developers Denki have done a decent job with Quarrel. Moving forward, there's plenty to build on in order to establish this as a successful series. When it comes down to business, Quarrel does its best to puff out its chest, but loses breath quicker than expected upon first playing. There's no doubt this is a charismatic, challenging and fun way to spend your time, if you don't mind some irritating tendencies along the way.

Top Game Moment: Solving an 8-letter anagram for huge points.

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By JonahFalcon (SI Elite) on Feb 01, 2012
Incidentally, Quarrel is not a port. Denki made the XBLA version first, and when no publisher picked it up, they ported it to iOS to generate interest.