I love word games. They wake up my brain on the way into work. There is of course the classic Scrabble that I still play with family and friends, but playing a single word and waiting for your next turn doesn't exactly fill up a commute (and can be interrupted when I lose cell service underground). Fortunately Alphabear by SpryFox fills all my requirements and its adorable art style makes it a pleasure to play.
Alphabear has three modes; "Chapters", "Verses" and "Special". "Chapters" is a solo campaign that features a daily puzzle, a challenge puzzle and a boss puzzle. To complete the chapter and progress you must beat the challenge puzzle and then the boss. The daily puzzles give you opportunities to earn better bears which give you advantages in gameplay (more on this later). "Verses" features a daily puzzle to complete and then send a challenge your friends to beat your high score. "Special" mode is themed around a holiday or an event and usually award unique bears for completion. Alphabear also has a fourth mode "Offline" only available when you are disconnected from data - its a nice thing to have on a commute and it shows how polished and well thought out this game is.
Regardless of the mode and puzzle you pick, all the games share the same core gameplay. In the beginning of the game you are presented with a small bear in a field surrounded by green boxes with a letter in each. Your job is to spell the best word with the letters provided. As you use letters your cute bear "consumes" those letters and grows in size to cover those squares. Bears however won't grow diagonally so if there is a leftover square it spawns a new "smaller bear" in the field. At the end of the game your goal have the single biggest bear possible.
Here is where it gets tricky. As you use letters you unlock more "new" letters around your bears. If you don't use existing letters they gradually change color from green to red. If you don't use letters after they turn red, they turn to stone and prevent your bears from growing into that space. So you have to play strategically using enough letters to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed while saving enough letters to be able to make words on subsequent turns.
At the end of the game you are given a score based on your words and the size of your largest bear. Your bear then "takes a selfie" and gives you a random quote using the words you spelled. They can be hysterical and the game allows you to save them and share them on your social networks.
Alphabear has a "collecting" component to it too. After every game you are awarded a bear to add to your collection. Sometimes the bear is determined as reward for competing a milestone in the game and other times it is random with the rarity based on your score. Once you have a collection of bears you can choose to take up to three with you into your next puzzle. Each bear has a special ability - some may give you more of a certain letter while others may effect your score. It is a fun addition to the game and gives it a bit of a Pokemon "Gotta catch 'em all" feel. If you find a bear you already own you level up the bear and their effect becomes stronger.
Alphabear is free to play and does contain some in-app currencies, though its a game you don't have to invest in to love. "Honey" is a currency that recharges over time. You use honey to play games, so when you run out you can buy more, watch an ad or just wait. Fortunately you can buy unlimited honey for 4.99, you give SpryFox some well deserved cash and totally eliminate this currency from the game. "Coins" are earned completing puzzles and can be used to wake bears you have recently used or to play challenge puzzles that award unique bears. I save my coins for challenges and just pick another bear if I am playing a lot in one day. For a free to play game the currency is pretty benign, especially if you buy the unlimited honey.
I love this game - the cute art style, the collecting and the wordplay make the game a must have. I can't imagine my iPhone without Alphabear. Give it a shot and you won't regret it!