I’ve always had a deep and unwavering proclivity for word puzzles. Growing up, I’d often sit myself down with the newspaper and chip away at the crosswords and the nine-letter puzzles; I had books upon books filled with all manner of word-based brainteasers and riddles which kept me busy for hours on end. I may no longer buy the newspaper or own those books, but on the off chance I’m at a café and there’s a newspaper lying about, I’ll be sure to quickly flip to the puzzle section and have a crack at what’s on offer. All of this is to say that puzzles – and word puzzles in particular – are something that I have always been drawn to, so my utter disappointment with Just a Phrase by POWGI should be telling.
Just a Phrase opens with no fanfare whatsoever, launching you straight into a menu screen where you can select any of the 120 puzzles on offer. Jumping into one of these triggers a tutorial screen to appear for the first time, explaining that you must decipher the common phrases by guessing the letters. Simple enough!
Upon beginning to play the game, however, it quickly becomes clear that Just a Phrase may in fact be a little too simple. Despite the ‘twist’ whereby the phrases you must guess have a word replaced with a homophone – choose your own adventure becomes chews your own adventure, for example – there’s no challenge here whatsoever as there are no consequences for guessing letters wrong at all. The pool of letters to choose from shrinks with every guess, and if you do happen to make it through 25 guesses without deciphering the full phrase, you’ll only be offered the remaining letter on your next turn. In other words, it’s like playing hangman, but without the hangman: you just can’t lose.
Not only is there no lose condition, there’s also no real incentive for even trying to do well. Where other games may incorporate progression systems based on successful completion of certain levels, a points system tied to how many incorrect guesses you’ve made, or even some sort of memory game, there’s nothing comparable here. It’s just a matter of guessing letters, consequence-free, until you’re sufficiently bored to quit the game; given that the game shows off everything it has to offer within the first three minutes, this happens sooner than you’d want.
But could there be value in Just a Phrase as an educational game? Again, unfortunately, no. The only real value here would be exposure to how words are spelt, and let’s be honest – while I hate to be that person, you’d get significantly more educational value (not to mention more enjoyment) out of reading a book.
Two of the smallest things can be said in favour of Just a Phrase. The first is that the soundtrack is surprisingly upbeat and chirpy to accompany such a dull experience, and the second is that the game runs well; uncomplicated graphics and gameplay means that there’s little strain on the console, and there are no technical issues to speak of. Unfortunately, though, a game running well means nothing when the uninspired gameplay doesn’t encourage you to play. When there are so many wonderful puzzle games on the Nintendo Switch that deserve your attention, it’s impossible to even recommend this title to die-hard fans of the genre.
And hey, I should know – I am one.
Just a Phrase by POWGI £6.99
Just a Phrase by POWGI is among the dullest games on the Switch to date. The soundtrack is cute and the game runs well, but you’ll spend so little time with this one that this means next to nothing.