—a wordy adventure—
The first time I played this game, it was on one of those (sort of) ancient computers with bulky screens, long before the art of flat screen technology had been mastered. I was also under the mistaken impression that it was called ‘Worm’, and would always name my character ‘Benny’ after the bookworm. Fast forward several years later and here I am, revelling in the nostalgia that is word collection, slime, and gruzzles.
Word Rescue was released by Redwood Games and Apogee Software in 1992 for Windows. It’s the sort of game that effortlessly captures the heart of whoever plays it, not only because of its cute and lovable characters (yes, even the gruzzles) but also because of the simple yet effective story and the gameplay as a whole. Once you reach the character select screen, you can choose either the blonde haired chap or the dark haired girl, and away you go. Benny gives you the lowdown on the gruzzles, weird pokémon type creatures that are unable to read and hence have a chip on their shoulder for anybody who can. So they decide to steal the words from out of all the books and scatter them throughout a series of 15 worlds, which you must play through to beat the game.
You begin in Main Street: Gruzzleville, a fancy little town with oddly shaped houses. You’ll notice that there are a bunch of question mark boxes floating above you, which are designed to be jumped into. Once you jump into it, a text box with a word corresponding to a picture appears, and you have to locate the picture version. If you happen to accidentally jump into the wrong picture, a gruzzle will appear instead. The picture may not always be nearby, but if you’re lucky it will be. In this level you encounter a gruzzle in the wild for the very first time, but pressing SPACEBAR magically summons Benny the Bookworm to cover it with purple slime like it’s nobody’s business. In general the gruzzles are depicted as slimy, gooey, dangerous, and grotesque, but I couldn’t help but think that the one with the green eyebrows was super cute. There is a total of seven (for luck I guess) word-picture combos to collect, in addition to a word that you can spell out. The word is right at the bottom of the screen, and comes from the word list. In order to get maximum points you have to collect the letters in the correct order (they light up in yellow when you do it correctly). Stuck on on the sky and sometimes hidden on trees are purple books, which are also meant to be collected for extra points and that adds a nice slice of variety to the game. When you collect each and every word, you receive a key from Benny you’re ready to go to the next level via the locked burgundy door.
Although a game in which you consistently have to match up pictures to words in each and every level has the potential to become repetitive, Word Rescue never fails to entertain. Even through this current playthrough, I found myself looking forward to rediscovering what words I would encounter in the next level, and what challenges I’d have to face. In Level 4, there is a castle rooftop that you can climb on top of. In Level 5, there is a massive tree with that one branch you can never reach, and you get to jump on top of clouds-surely every kid’s dream! The game design just works in the most intuitive sense, because it gives you enough freedom to enjoy and explore, and you don’t feel constrained too much by the word collection aspect.
Levels also become progressively more difficult, which is a good and much needed aspect of game design in any game. Players want a challenge and often become familiarised with the mechanics to the point where they are too easy; Word Rescue takes this into account, and ups the ante with slime pits, waterfalls, gruzzles that pop out of the woodwork and pipework (literally), and some really neat secret areas the more intrepid explorer can discover.
My favourite level of all was level 14, The Slime Factory. The deep blue background colour and the serene yellow moon don’t give away the unbelievable slimefest that awaits you below. There are tons of pits to fall into, and sometimes I forgot where I had seen the picture since the world was so expansive. But it almost feels like you’ve illegally broken in, catching the gruzzles red handed in their wicked plans like Red did to that rabbit in Hoodwinked. If you’re seeking to challenge yourself a bit more, you can always change the difficulty setting to medium or hard, but be warned-there are far more gruzzles and they seem to be much faster. When you eventually beat the game, you are rewarded with a lovely screen that praises you for all your efforts throughout the game.
All in all, Word Rescue is a fantastic example of the potential digital games have to educate and entertain. It provides an exciting adventure with a funny background story, and soon the player, irrespective of age, finds themselves completely immersed in an epic word hunt. If you like learning, the English language, or you have a super hero complex that is pushing you to go and defeat those gruzzles, give Word Rescue a go.
- Excellently designed game for target audience
- Fun and varied level design
- Conveys unique and lasting charm
- Highly effective edutainment title
- Soundtrack could have a wider range of music
Play Word Rescue (Episode 1) here.
Or, if you are more mathematically inclined, you can check out Word Rescue’s numerical successor, Math Rescue.