shawns's The Ultimate Alphabet (iPad) review

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A Photo Hunt in Reverse

 Just take a minute to soak all this in...
Unaffectionately coined as Find the Shit games by my wife, you could immediately write off The Ultimate Alphabet as another of those photo hunt/hidden object games that are increasingly popular these days, but you'd be missing out. Sort of an intelligent photo hunt in reverse, The Ultimate Alphabet presents you with an image of hundreds of things that all begin with the same letter and lets you tell it what you see. And though it may seem like a perfect educational game for little learners, The Ultimate Alphabet is definitely an app for adults. The clues are horrendously cryptic, many of the words are esoteric or simply extinct and some of the imagery is borderline erotic or at least potentially disturbing to younger viewers. 

The Ultimate Alphabet by Toytek is a collaboration with Mike Wilks, the Englishman who first created the illustrated book of the same name in 1986. For those who missed it 24 years ago (myself included), it was a coffee table fad that was later followed by books like Where's Waldo? and The Magic Eye. What the app may lack in oversized, hardback appeal, it more than makes up for in simple interactivity and general gaminess while retaining the same smirk-inducing satisfaction of the original format. 

At the outset of each letter you'll feel like a genius for spotting so many things so quickly. Apple, ant, aardvark, atlas, apparition, aquifer. But the hidden words go much deeper as each piece of imagery typically contains numerous clues. That atlas also holds several continents and oceans and you'll also want to think in broader terms. I beat my head against the iPad for a good hour before realizing that the archaeopteryx, adder and anteater are all... Animals. The game does a good job of lending a hand when you get stumped via a layered hint system. You get a cryptic clue for each word and can then tap the question mark for a more sensible definition. Tap the ? again and you'll get to see and unscramble all the letters that make up the word. Sometimes it's obvious from just seeing the jumbled letters but other times, like with antimacassar, I still didn't believe what I was reading. That's when the globe icon proves useful as it pulls up a web page (usually Wikipedia) that proves that the game isn't cheating and making up fake words. They thought of everything, and then some. 

Similar, of all things, to Katamari Damacy, The Ultimate Alphabet catalogs and details every one of the thousands of objects in the game. You can look at all the Dinosaurs you've found, for instance, or marvel at your knowledge of Mineralogy. Guessing a word without using any hints nets you a gold star while using each clue knocks you down to silver and then bronze. Individual word stats add up to category ranks which track across all (eventual) 26 letters. Every one of these statistics is viewable in the catalog and there's even OpenFeint achievements for the ultimate intellectual bragging rights. "I'm smarter than you noobz!" 

Initially, The Ultimate Alphabet (for all iOS devices) features only the letters A through D of the full 26-letter alphabet but it's more than enough to keep you guessing and puzzling for months. The free version now gives you the letter A in its entirety (so grab it already!) with the other letters for sale individually or as bundles. I paid the full $6.99 when it was released and it's proven to be one of the few apps that I don't regret paying more than $0.99 for. You'll feel smart, you'll feel dumb, and then you'll actually get smarter! Well, at the least you'll be able to totally wow people with your knowledge of dead languages and, honestly, can you even put a price on that?    
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