Yes, that’s right boys and girls, I am here to talk to you about what might be the best crossword-solving console game ever created: Merv Griffin’s Crosswords. It is also game that might also go down as the single least-played XBLA game ever, as, to date, the only people I’ve ever seen playing it are myself and our my close friend, Jason.
Full disclosure: I had to trick him into buying it to show him how awesome it was before he decided to buy it for himself.
I will be the first one to admit that I am addicted to crossword puzzles. Monday through Sunday, iPad in hand, I will take on the most casual to the most difficult that the New York Times has to offer. I’ve been known to do them during class (not recommended), and I easily have eight to ten games of Words With Friends going on my phone at any given time.
Yes, I know, Words With Friends is Scrabble, so it’s only based on crosswords, but I’ve yet to find a good crossword puzzle game for Android so it’ll have to do for now.
Anyway, I digress.
With my addiction happily fed, one afternoon my then girlfriend pointed out to me that there was a show on the Game Show Network all about crosswords. With my interests in mind, we DVR’d a couple of episodes and it wasn’t long before I was completely hooked on the competitive crossword puzzle game show known as Merv Griffin’s Crosswords.
With its catchy music, competitive difficulty and ridiculously over-eager host, the show was a dream come true for me. Unfortunately, the critics felt differently, and therefore it didn’t last too long. Before it jumped the shark, however, a hastily-made video game version of the show was produced for the XBLA, PSN, Wii and most mobile devices.
Thinking it was destined to be a smash hit with fans of the show, opening the gates to some serious crossword-puzzle competition, I downloaded it without a second thought.
I think calling the game “hastily-made” just might be the nicest thing ever said about it, in fact. Even though the game got scores like 7 out of 10 from Xbox 360 Magazine UK and 5 out of 10 from IGN, the compliments lauded at it were suspect at best.
“Worth the $10 for serious nerds who don’t need fancy production values,” said Xbox Magazine in their April 2009 issue.
“What’s an eight letter word for mediocre? Wait, that’ll do.” IGN chimed in.
See what I mean? Despite being the only crossword game of its kind–and the only alternative to Coffee Time Crosswords, which is even worse–there was just no posthumous love out there for the late Merv Griffin and his crossword creation brought to the console by Pipeworks Games.
Well, I am here to tell you that despite its technical flaws, its campiness, its lack of sheen and my clearly being the only person that plays it, Merv Griffin’s Crosswords is actually a really good time for the money.
For starters, the puzzles are pretty challenging, overall. You have the option to choose from Monday through Thursday and Sunday difficulties, as well as genres ranging from music, movies, video games and more. The game can be played in the traditional sense of the game show: Two players compete against one another for one round, then the game adds “spoilers” in the subsequent rounds and a prize round for the winner at the end. Additionally, it can be played head-to-head or solo.
For each of these modes, the mechanics are fairly solid. Letter selection is easy and takes little time even with the whole alphabet navigated via joystick. Hints are available in some modes if you get stuck, and the clues offered don’t go too far out of their way to fool you.
The game features an Xbox Live multiplayer mode, but I’ve never found a random round of matchmaking. In fact, outside of inviting Jason to a private game, every time I have tried matchmaking it has failed.
This is why I’m confident that I’m the only person alive who bought it, willingly that is. Clearly the aforementioned reviews didn’t help sales much, but I can tell you that for the $10 it cost me, I have wholeheartedly enjoyed every single game of it I have played.
Why You Should Play It
Simple. Merv Griffin’s Crosswords might be the first game ever made where the glitches make the game more fun than it was to begin with.
Ty Treadway’s voice acting is awful, and that’s saying something since he’s doing his own voice. If you don’t find yourself giggling (at the very least) during his explanation of how to play the game, then you can’t be human. Even better is when you win a trip by answering correctly, and each person playing hears and sees a different explanation for a different trip.
Then there are the”spoilers”–players who join in the second round, standing just over the player’s shoulders and try to steal your podium by answering correctly when you can’t. They are programmed so poorly that it becomes laughable.
Each game, the three NPCs (who would be human if anyone else had bought the damn game) fulfill the same three archetypes: the genius girl who always knows the right answers, the sort of smart guy who you have to watch out for but will occasionally guess incorrectly, and finally, the guy (or girl) whose parents let him eat a bit too much paste as a kid. The latter’s answers are always right but very often misspelled in absurd ways.
I have almost wet myself laughing at the actions of most of these characters, and, as much as Jason might tell you otherwise, he has had a serious laugh because of them, too. Even if I am in the most frustrated of moods from losing game after game of Halo, the Three Stooges of Spoiler-ville always manage to cheer me up.
Even some of the clues the game offers, and their accompanying answers, are so stupid they elicit laughter. Examples include:
Clue: Can be eaten, 8 letters
What was that? The word is “edible,” you say? Balderdash!
Clue: To accompany, 12 letters
I think you get the drift. In these instances you can rack up some easy dough, laughing as you progress toward a victory over your opponent. Luckily, not all the clues are that easy, and the combination provides a nice mix of serious competition and hilarious “you can’t be serious” moments.
All in all, it would be wrong of me to say that Merv Griffin’s Crosswords is a game free of flaws. In fact, that would be a flat-out lie. But never before have I played a flawed game that I have enjoyed this much. It’s almost that giddy, can’t-stop-laughing kind of fun that you used to have as a kid, but now only get when you’ve drank a little too much.
For $10, I personally guarantee you’ll never have as much fun with a crossword game as you will with Merv Griffin’s Crosswords. That, and I’m too proud to beg other people to buy it!