Review: QatQi

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I’m a sucker for word games.  I love playing Scrabble at a table with my wife and kids.  I enjoy Words with Friends (although I admit the luster of that game has diminished greatly for me).  I had a brief love affair with Puzzle Juice and its Tetris-like letter building mechanic.  Letterpress has a strange addictive quality that is also fun in short bursts. Smart As on the Vita also brings a wonderful charm to its word puzzles.

There are so many word games to choose from, so when ZWorkbench’s word puzzler QatQi (pronounced “cat-key”) came my way, I was excited to start playing but wasn’t quite sure what to make of the game at first.

For starters, the menu is like no other, consisting of a radial dial of smaller circles listing the days of the week, with Mondays being in the middle and Sundays being on the outer ring.  Similar to a New York Times crossword puzzle, Mondays are easy and the further out in the week, the puzzles get harder.  But the puzzles aren’t your traditional word clue fill in the box type.  Instead QatQi sets out six yellow circle tiles with letters on them and a blue outlined circle to begin placing those yellow tiles to spell a word.  If an acceptable word is placed the tiles turn green.  Once an accepted word is placed, more blue outlined circles appear around the green word indicating that words can be created above or below (horizontal or vertical) the one you just placed, and yellow letter tiles can be added on to a green word to lengthen them (and by extension increase the points awarded).  Each new blue circle that appears around an accepted word has the potential for having additional point dots inside the circle, and the more point dots inside the blue outlined circle, the more points that are awarded for an accepted word.

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As words are spelled out a frame of sorts appears, which letters cannot be placed beyond.  The further into the week, the larger and more complex this frame becomes.  As the puzzles become more challenging, the boards turn into intricate maps of winding corridors and rooms, laid out almost like an old school rogue-like dungeon crawler.  Puzzles later in the week also contain a higher number of gold coins which adds to the need for finding them in order to increase your overall score.

When a yellow tile is placed on the board another random letter replaces it.  Unlike Puzzle Juice, there isn’t any clear indication of which letter tile will replace the one just used.  Spelling out a word can give you a sense of what letter tiles will be coming, but at times it pays to put a word or two out to find out what letters will be coming up next.

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QatQi offers an undo function that lets you withdraw letters (and even whole words if necessary) in order to have a better idea of letter/word tile placement.  From the start, QatQi gives players a bank of something like 150 undos to use across all puzzles, while extra undos can be gained through in-app purchase (1,000 for $2) or by waiting for them to randomly appear. Or you can just restart the puzzle.  Of course, the game encourages using undos (it is a further source of income), but strategically using them also is a necessity to plan ahead and see what letters will become available.

One of the cool things about QatQi is that as letter tiles are being placed (and the word remains yellow–meaning not accepted), suggested words appear briefly where additional tiles can be placed. However, these suggested words aren’t always ones that can be spelled with the letter tiles currently available to you.  Another neat touch is the way the game tracks your stats. As a word is placed and points are tallied, statistics of your progress randomly flash on screen indicating how well you are doing compared to the rest of the people playing the game.

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Currently, QatQi does not use the iOS Gamecenter, but instead relies on internal leaderboards.  While I’m not exactly a fan of Gamecenter (and the minimal interactive features that it offers), I would love to see QatQi stats appear there instead of having to load up the game in order to compare my stats with someone on my friend list.  I say that because currently QatQi is a slow app to load.  I’m running it on a 4S and the game takes longer than I’d expect (given that it is simply a word puzzle game).  I’m not sure if that’s because it is making a call back to ZWorkbench to get the puzzle or if it is sending stats, but the game is slow in weird places.  Loading a game sends the menu away and the screen goes black for what feels like three to five seconds before the gameboard appears.  Initially I thought the game was hung up, but once I played several puzzles I found this behavior to happen each time.  Hopefully this minor lag in loading can be addressed in a future update.

QatQi is a wonderful game that every word puzzle fan needs to play. The way random letters draw in after a word is spelled combined with a random framing of the game board adds a level of strategy to the typical word game concept that is fresh and unique.  Use of undos builds on that strategic theme while placement of letter tiles on point multipliers is the cream cheese icing on the delicious word puzzle cake.  Even with some initial slow load times (which conceivably can be patched), QatQi is one hell of a fun game. Plus it’s free–go download it from iTunes right now!

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Pros:
+ Unique visual design
+ Hundreds of puzzles
+ Deep strategy in letter placement
+ Tons of replay

Cons:
- Slow loading times
- No Gamecenter integration
- Puzzles later in the week can be brutally challenging

Game Info:
Platform: iOS
Publisher: ZWorkbench
Developer: ZWorkbench
Release Date: 11/15/2012
Genre: Word Puzzle
Age Rating: 4+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.