RedSpell claims its What's the Word? iPhone and iPad app is the original version of the latest craze in mobile word games, but the similar 4 Pics 1 Word from LOTUM GmbH is taking Android's Google Play app market by storm. See Android Advisor.
Reminiscent to last year's Draw Something trend, if you have a Facebook account by now you'll no doubt have seen photo posts from your friends requesting your help in completing a puzzle. They'll have posted a screenshot in which there are four separate images, each with something in common, and space to type in that something below. They need your help to correctly guess the word. See Best Android Apps.
These screenshots will look a little different: if they're blue your friend is probably playing What's the Word?; black, and it's likely they've installed 4 Pics 1 Word, reviewed here. Both apps are available for Android and iOS, although the latter has the wider device support, which stretches to our Nexus 10 tablet.
We also installed 4 Pics 1 Word on a Sony Xperia P. With the latest version said to be optimised for smaller screens, we found it equally intuitive to use on both smartphone and tablet. The tablet version also displays in portrait mode, and the images are of a sufficient resolution to enable you to see what they're supposed to depict.
In each level four pictures are displayed onscreen, with some blank and letter tiles below. Your task is to guess what it is these images have in common, then select from the available letters to fill in the blank tiles. That more letters are provided than is required prevents 4 Pics 1 Word from becoming a simple anagram puzzler. Correctly guess the theme and you're rewarded with three coins and progress to the next level.
The puzzles are randomised, but only slightly. We saw the same images on our phone and tablet, and in mostly the same order. Some levels are simple, such as the use of two ladies with their arms in the air and two shots of the sea to illustrate 'wave', while others are more difficult: the flags, crowd of people, empty boardroom table and assortment of photos used to show 'plenty' had us stumped for ages.
The first five levels are sufficiently easy to suck you into the game, at which point one reason 4 Pics 1 Word is so popular in Google Play becomes apparent. A pop-up requests that you award the app a five-star rating in return for 150 coins. This currency is key to your progression through the game as the levels become more difficult, so it's not surprising that many users are keen to take advantage. But awarding an app a high score without having thoroughly tested the software can mislead others, and it's quite possible to decline this offer.
When you're stuck on a level, pressing the bomb icon at the bottom right of the screen offers the option to remove some of the available letters (at a cost of 90 coins) or reveal a letter (60 coins). If you don't have enough coins, you can purchase some more (from $0.99 for 350). 4 Pics 1 Word is otherwise free to use, with no ads.
Alternatively, you can ask your Facebook friends for their help by tapping the Facebook icon at the bottom of the screen. Provided you're logged into the Facebook app on your phone or tablet, 4 Pics 1 Word will automatically create a post, and you simply need to tap Share to post it to your Wall.
That's as far as 4 Pics 1 Word's social element goes. Unlike Draw Something, it isn't possible to partner with those friends within the game itself. Indeed, each installation of 4 Pics 1 Word is independent, with no personal profile to link your progress between, say, phone and tablet, nor allow you to connect with friends. Although you wouldn't howl with laughter at their input in this game (as you might in Draw Something), some sort of leaderboard would be nice.
It's incredibly easy to get into 4 Pics 1 Word, with no instruction required. It quickly becomes addictive, but it lacks that killer social element to hold your interest once the difficulty level ramps up. Given that you'll either need to pester your friends or pay to progress, there comes a point when you're genuinely stuck. Since there's no other way to skip a level or request a new puzzle, it's unlikely 4 Pics 1 Word will be on your go-to app list for long.