Ladders by POWGI review for Nintendo Switch, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series X

Platform: Switch
Also on: PS5, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Lightwood Games
Developer: Lightwood Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Seeing as I’ve played about seven years’ worth of Sporcle Word Ladders, I came into Ladders by POWGI with no small amount of experience with this particular word game genre. This has both its upsides and its downsides.

The upside is that I didn’t need to be eased into the game — though that’s not a huge issue here, since, much like most other POWGI games, it’s not only quite intuitive, it’s also presented in such a way that it’s awfully easy to pick up. Rather than throwing you into the deep end, the game builds up your confidence with puzzles that can easily be solved in less than 30 seconds (with the odd challenging one to give you a taste of what’s to come). That, in turn, it makes it very easy to get into a groove of puzzle after puzzle, until the next thing you know, you’ve knocked off a dozen or two of them — along with no small amount of time off the clock.

The downside, unfortunately, is that I’ve seen how harder puzzles can be presented in a way that still makes them accessible, and Ladders doesn’t do it. For one thing, when the words get longer and require more steps, it has to break the ladder into two columns, which — and I may just be speaking from personal preference here — makes it more difficult to visualize the chain.

Even more annoyingly, there aren’t themes, nor are there hints, nor are there midpoints in the puzzles. This means that when you have to do a particularly tough transition, you’re basically on your own. Turning, say, SPLIT into JOINT over 10+ steps would be hard even with a friendly hint to get you started; without, it’s just frustrating, and not in a good way.

Also frustrating: when you solve a puzzle in fewer steps than the game expects. You need to be attuned to the game’s exact internal logic in order to solve the puzzles — which, to be fair, is usually not that hard, but still, there were times when I had no idea how to stretch things even further when the obvious answer was sitting right there.

As complaints go, of course, there are worse ones to be had than “the hard puzzles were too hard,” and “sometimes I got a solution too fast.” Ladders by POWGI isn’t a perfect word game, but it’s still highly enjoyable, so if you’re fond of word ladders, it’s definitely worth spending some time with the game.

Lightwood Games provided us with a Ladders by POWGI Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B