Alphaman's biggest pitch is it's an educational game for kids, and although I try to keep an open mind with most apps I download, I was actually dreading the experience of trying this game out. Since I'm not a parent or an uncle, my stakes at teaching children how to learn a few words isn't high on my priority list. But maybe my prejudice was just another proof of my ignorance, and Alphaman may have a few lessons that appeal to all ages.

Alphaman is essentially Pac-Man with letters, as you slide a finger to guide your letter grabbing protagonist through various mazes. There are various creatures who only wish to do him harm, and the key to completing each level is to spell out the letters in sequence before your Alphaman's three lives are used up. Although building words is an educational experience, that doesn't mean the actual game has to be predictably easy, and thankfully Alphaman actually has its degrees of difficulty. Evading the bad guys isn't exactly a walk in the park, and I've died my share of times while trying to spell out "ochre," a word I had never used before -- until now.

One of the biggest pleasures of Alphaman is the ability to unlock different mazes in a quick fashion. Once you spell out several words on a particular stage, you can move on to the next chapter and move around in an entirely different environment. With over 10 maps available to play, Alphaman has a ton of visual variety, and since there are different enemies to face with each distinct world, it doesn't get boring. A learning game that's actually fun to play is not a bad way to start the day, even if I'm stuck in the snow.

Alphaman isn't just a letter grabber who shies away from conflict. Certain power ups within each maze enables him to do some damage on his adversaries. Whether it's running them down with a vehicle, exploding a bomb, or spraying them with a water hose during the fire level, all of these additions give each maze its own distinct flavor. Since I'm a natural runner, I prefer the power ups which increase my speed. My personal favorite is a blue tinged time portal machine which transports you to the next letter. For all you coin and money grubbers, there's also treasure to collect.

The biggest surprise behind Alphaman is its overall playability factor. It could have simply coasted as a Pac-Man clone since its main value lies in its educational aspects. Before downloading this app, I had no idea what the word "umber" (it's a brownish earth pigment), actually existed. So aside from giving kids (and middle aged gamers like myself), the chance to learn sophisticated words, the actual arcade adventure is entertaining enough to recommend. Plus, who doesn't want to achieve their first Alpha power?

Alphaman might be billed as an app that will help children build their vocabulary, but it's a game that will appeal to all ages. It's a pleasurable trip I don't mind taking a few more times down the road, and maybe this time the words, or my preconceived notions, won't get in the way.


App Store Link: Alphaman for iPhoneiPad | By TAG Studio Private Limited | Price: $0.99 | Version: 1.00 | 48.3 MB | Rating: 4+

7.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating