It’s a pretty well-known fact that writers like word games. This is partially because most writers feed on words, but it’s also because we like feeling as though the years we’ve spent actually learning our respective language(s) gives us some kind of advantage. Alphabears will make most of us downright unbearable.
Spry Fox is a developer most people know by this point; if they haven’t played Road Not Taken, maybe they’ve lost their battery multiple times to the frustrating and addictive Triple Town. For those who have played any of Spry Fox’s clever games, they already know two things: One, that Spry Fox games tend to warp spacetime in such a way that all time tends to vanish, and two, that Spry Fox finds a way to put adorable, cube-shaped bears into all their games.
Alphabear features said bears as the main characters (bearacters? No, too much), with the goal being to earn as many points as possible. Each word spelled, and more specifically, each letter used, makes a bear. Through the magic of spelling words, players can make those bears larger, and the bigger their bears at the end of the round, the more bonus points they earn. Play consists of a board with letters which appear at the center. As words are spelled, the tiles turn into bears, and the letters spread out from the center. Players must use all the letters on one side of a bear, so it can then… eat the letters? There’s no explanation for what actually happens, but the bear is bigger at the end of it, which is what matters.
Of course, there is additional pressure from the tiles themselves: Each tile has a number on it, and every time a word is spelled, that number counts down closer to zero. Should it reach zero, that letter turns to stone. Not only does this keep players from using that letter, it means bears become blocked from expanding close to the stone. The key, then, is deciding where to allow letters to turn to stone, when possible. Obviously it becomes difficult when there are multiple letters on the board with one turn left, but a good word can keep the stones from interrupting play too much.
Each level of the game offers the chance to unlock a new bear, provided players earn enough points, and each bear that is unlocked is a specific buff that can be applied before starting a level. Most of them just improve the final score, but many also give bonus points for using specific letters. Doggy Bear, for example, gives a bonus to the final score, but also gives additional points for using the letters “D,” “O,” and “G.” It took me awhile to realize you don’t have to spell “dog” with those letters; players are given the bonus simply for using the letters.
Most levels allow the use of up to three bears, though every bear has to have a “nap” after it’s been used. The rarer (and therefore more powerful) bears have to nap for longer, though during my time with the game it was rare I couldn’t use the bear I wanted. This was primarily because the bears have a short nap time, but it’s also because, since Alphabear is a mobile game, gaps between play were long enough that I didn’t really even think about the bears and their naps.
Most levels cost honey to start, and like a lot of mobile games, honey naturally restores itself over time. Generally, because of how slowly I play the game – I prefer finding the best possible words – I never wanted for honey. But for players who go through the levels quickly, there are couple of options: They can watch a video (and therefore support the developer) and earn 50 honey. The videos are about 20 seconds long, and a pretty good deal to speed things up, considering there are no ads anywhere else in the game. For players willing to directly support the developer, infinite honey can also be purchased for $4.99 USD, which essentially prices the otherwise free game at about five dollars. But again, it’s an optional purchase, and there’s even a third option, which is buying more honey with coins that can be earned from playing the game.
Perhaps because of its simplicity, and because of the gentle way monetization was handled, I can find almost nothing about Alphabear to dislike. The only real issue with Alphabear at the moment is that there’s no way to play offline, which Spry Fox says is because of bugs caused by offline. But its UI is smooth, the bear theme is adorable, and I get to spell words and feel like I’m doing something worth celebrating. It’s easily one of the best mobile games out there, even with Triple Town being on the market. If you like spelling, or bears, there are few better games out there right now.
You can get Alphabear for free on iOS or Android devices, each from their respective stores. Beyond that, you can always check out Spry Fox’s website for more information on both Alphabear and their other games.
Oh, and to answer the joke in the title: Bears love spelling bees because they make spelling honey! You’re all welcome.