Publisher: UTV Ignition
I fired up Quarrel this morning for one final game before sitting down to write this review. The next time I checked the clock three hours had passed and I was about to fall behind on my deadline. This is a game in which pirates battle ninjas, robots battle soldiers, and aliens battle vikings for territorial control using only the power of the English language. Conflicts are won and lost at the hands of the elusive anagram, which makes itself known only to the most capable of word-weilding warriors. It might sound like I'm being obtuse, but Quarrel is absolutely insane; fortunately, it's equally excellent.
Quarrel was announced for Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade back in 2009. Since then, it's been stuck in a developmental limbo of sorts, with a whole host of publishers refusing to release on the grounds that "gamers don’t buy word games”. Denki though stuck to their guns, and we're now finally able to play the iOS hit as it was always intended: with online multiplayer support.
Quarrel starts as it means to go on: in an explosion of colour and sound. Retinas adapted to the dull browns and greys of modern triple-A titles are seared by flashes of fluorescent technicolour. The aesthetic Denki have adopted for Quarrel is exactly as you'd expect for a Live Arcade title aimed at a family audience. It's quirky and detailed enough for adults to admire, but simplistic enough to prevent overwhelming younger players. Player avatars and their respected territories are assigned a colour and an army of minions with which to conquer an impressive variety of beautifully rendered islands, which serve as the game boards.
I won't bore you with the ins and outs of Quarrel's ruleset, but the gist is to conquer your opponent's tiles by picking letters from a shared pool to form words equal in size to (or less than) the number of minions at your disposal. Letters are assigned a value, with vowels offering only single points, and less common consonants like X and Z providing significantly higher scores. Each jumble has an eight-letter anagram hidden within, the aim being to amass enough minions to enable you to find and play the highest possible word score. The gameplay, if you haven't already worked it out, is essentially a blend of Scrabble and turn-based strategy games like Risk. The tutorial does a good job of introducing players to the basic mechanics, but it'll take a couple of rounds to pick up the more intricate details.
In this sense, Quarrel is perfectly pitched at its target audience. It manages to be instantly accessible, while retaining just enough depth to reward the more strategic players. Game modes like 'Domination' and 'Showdown' start things lightly, with AI opponents providing very little in the way of challenge. Progress to the later stages though, and you'll find yourself sweating over a consonant-clustered rack of Bs and Vs, trying desperately to find something - anything - before the time runs out, and you gift your enemy his final territory.
Word-games like this, of course, rely on the strength of their vocabularies. Quarrel fails to disappoint in this respect, with an almost complete English dictionary sitting behind the scenes, allowing you play anything from 'Dog' to indelicate anagram 'Retarded' (at least offline, but more on that in a minute) in order to get the better of your opponent. In the many, many hours I've spent with the game, I've never knowingly seen the same anagram appear twice: a testament to the sheer variety of word jumbles on offer. Each word played is also given a definition, which scrolls along the bottom of the screen after each round. It's a nice little touch that assures you the word you, as well as everyone else just played was legitimate (I now know what a 'Gi' is. Thanks Quarrel!).
The audio work isn't quite as polished as its visual counterpart, with sound levels clipping the overload limit when there are several things happening at once. The character sound clips, while occasionally entertaining, do begin to grate after several hours' play, and the soundtrack itself is rather repetitive. Achievement unlocks are few and far between, with the difficulty level ranging from finding your first anagram to finding one hundred of them. There's also no achievements for finishing the 'Domination' and 'Showdown' game modes, but instead for completing certain obscure objectives during a couple of the levels contained within them. Never do these niggles become so prominent as to detract from everything else Quarrel has to offer though.
So you've conquered the 'Showdown' and 'Domination' modes, you've completed all of the challenges the AI opponents have to offer. Now it's time to take things online, and see exactly why Quarrel was always developed with multiplayer in mind. Things stay much the same as they are offline, only this time, the competition is much more fierce. It's no exaggeration to say it took myself and three other players over an hour and a half to resolve one particular Quarrel, and it was a delight to play from start to finish. You're never left twiddling your thumbs as other contenders battle it amongst each other either. Bonus points are up for grabs by making a word out of the letters the active players are using. It has no sway on the immediate play, but helps to fill your 'experience bar', which unlocks additional minions for use in particularly challenging stand-offs.
There are the usual 'Ranked' and 'Player Match' options, with the former adding 'Word IQ' points to your overall tally, based on your performance within the game. Quarrel harbors the kind of friendly sport so rarely seen on Microsoft's online service, aided by the fact that some of the words you might get away with in the offline game modes are censored when taken online. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, and if there's only one word you can make out of the letters 'H', 'T', 'I' and 'S', you probably weren't going to be a contender anyway. It would be great to see Quarrel's online community grow but unfortunately, as it stands, the game lobbies are rather sparsely populated, and you'll be waiting some ten minutes if you're after a full four-player match.
Quarrel deserves to be a success. For just 400msp you'll be treated to a vibrant Scrabble-based strategy title, the simplistic exterior of which hides a surprisingly deep experience. The lack of local multiplayer (for obvious reasons) means that you won't get to battle it out with your family, but it's an ideal game to sit a younger gamer in front of and attempt to pretend you're not enjoying it half as much as they are.
- Accessible but deceptively deep gameplay
- Absolutely huge vocabulary
- At 400msp, it's great value for money
- Sound design is patchy
- Achievement choices are a little odd
- Often hard to find an online match
The Short Version: Denki did right to stick to their guns, and have produced a fiercely addictive word puzzler that's as deep as it is accessible. Quarrel is great to look at, its interface simple to traverse, and you're never restricted by its vocabulary. Despite a niggle or two, at 400msp this is an absolute steal.