Capsule Review: Highrise Heroes

(A note on versions - this game has slightly different titles on different platforms. The Steam version (which is what I played) is called “Highrise Heroes: Word Challenge.” On iOS, it’s “Highrise Heroes - The Towering Word Game” while on Android it’s “Highrise Word Heroes.” And it’s “Highrise Word Heroes+” on Amazon. For simplicity, I will refer to it as “Highrise Heroes.”)

A spelling game with a variety of mechanical gimmicks based on the premise that you are guiding a group of survivors down through the floors of a highrise building after an apparent earthquake. Spelling is done on a grid of letter tiles by connecting adjacent tiles to form words. Like in Bookworm and other similar games, tiles that are used are removed and the tiles above drop down. In most levels, you must clear rubble tiles to get the survivor tiles to the bottom of the grid, allowing them to escape the floor and proceed downward to the next. Between levels are short dialog scenes that establish the characters, provide some weak humor, and advance the story in which it’s quickly suggested that all is not as it seems. There are also twelve extra “Chimp Challenge” levels that are disconnected from the story.

Most levels must be solved in a limited number of turns, and any unused turns are converted to bonus points once you succeed. Each survivor also has a special ability such as swapping two tiles or turning a target tile into a random vowel - these each cost some number of turns and cannot be used once that particular survivor has escaped the floor. The intent seems to be a skill-ceiling-raising risk/reward trade-off, as using abilities can enable to you more easily and quickly reach your goals while giving up extra turns that otherwise would have boosted your score. But since your turn count is limited, spending turns on abilities is not clearly the safer option, so it seems risky either way. As a result, I mostly refrained from using them except when they were required and just kept the extra turns.

There’s a lot of mechanical variety on top of the basic formula. You often have to keep track of survivor’s air levels and periodically connect them to blue “oxygen” tiles to replenish them. Some tiles can’t be part of words but need to have words spelled next to them to be cleared, others don’t fall and must be destroyed in place, and so on. Some levels change the goal, such as tasking you with using particular letters a certain number of times or clearing “water” tiles by spelling words that pass through them.

The result is that each level is its own distinct puzzle, which is good and bad. It keeps gameplay varied, and if there’s a level whose gimmick you don’t like, the game will move on to something else soon enough. But it also means that spelling is usually a means to an end rather than the goal itself - you might want to spell awesome words, but need instead to spell a three-letter word in a specific location to save the survivors. There are even robot-themed levels which feature no spelling at all but ask you to join number tiles to reach a target sum.

Most mechanics are shallow, so this means many levels require juggling your attention between several simple needs rather than presenting a singular deep challenge. Later levels ramp up the difficulty, but not in ways that deepen the spelling - it’s often by increasing randomness and constraints that force you to spell in specific areas on the grid, or by giving you tight time limits instead of turn limits (though note that at least in the Steam version, you can disable time limits.)

I’m uncertain who this game is really for. What starts out looking like a fresh way to contextualize spelling gameplay turns out to instead be a series of ways to dilute it. People who want to spell impressive words would be better served by many other games like Bookworm or Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey; people uninterested in doing so still have little reason to check out this game in particular.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the story levels and tried one Chimp Challenge level. Be warned that everything about Story Mode suggests it will end after ninety levels; it actually goes on for another twenty after that.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.