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ATPM 14.07
July 2008


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Software Review

by Linus Ly,

Merriam-Webster Spell-Jam



Price: $20

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.3.9. Universal.

Trial: Time-limited (one hour)

In pre-K, my son Justin won first place in a spelling bee contest. It was just pre-K, but I still had hopes that someday he would win the National Bee. However, as he grows older, he is more interested in arcade games and does not bother with word games. When Spell-Jam became available for the Mac, I bought it soon afterward. I thought a computer game like Spell-Jam might get him more interested in word games.

Let Us Spell

Spell-Jam has three modes of play. In Practice mode, you are drilled on a set of 25 words, three times over. With the Competition mode, you compete against the computer or other human players. For a slight variation of the spelling contest, you can use the Game Show mode, where things are reminiscent of Who Want To Be A Millionaire. You cannot call a friend, but you can opt to pass, pick one out of four answers, ask for the first letter of the word, etc. In all modes, you have three levels of difficulty—Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced—but in Practice you also have the Most Misspelled Words level. Also available in all modes are hints and such to help the player. You can ask for a repeat of the word, its definition, a sample usage, and origin. For me, word repeat is the most useful, as the words are sometimes not clear. I think the words should be enunciated more. You interact with the game via the keyboard, on-screen or physical. In Competition mode, you have no option to correct any mistyping, so trim those fat fingers before you play Spell-Jam.


Spell-Jam has three mode of play—Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Spelling bees are usually associated with kids, so Spell-Jam is full of cute animations to keep its intended young audience interested. The contestants wave to the audience, vow to get the wrong word next time, jump for joy, and so on. In Competition mode, players do not walk the length of the runway to the podium. Instead, they are whisked through some underground tunnel from seating position to appear at the podium. Unfortunately, the canned animations were not enough to keep Justin interested. I ended up doing the review without his able assistance. After a while, the novelty wore off, and I really wanted to have a way to turn off animations altogether.

I’ve never competed in a spelling bee before, so I cannot attest to the proper difficulty levels used in Spell-Jam. However, I regularly play crossword puzzles and Scrabbles, so my vocabulary is probably better than average. I think Spell-Jam’s levels are appropriate, although I wish there were support custom levels. Spelling bees are usually made for teenagers, so even the Easy level is too difficult for seven-year-old Justin. What’s more, I have a niece and a nephew whose vocabularies are poor. With custom levels, I could prepare for them the easiest words appropriate to what they learn in school. All the words and their associated spellings are already in the program, so it should not be hard to present them for selection in building a custom list.

Another wish I have with Spell-Jam, definitely a wish wish, is that responses be said instead of typed. Perhaps Spell-Jam can be taught to recognize the letters of the English alphabet. English or US accent, Canadian Z or not. The program could certainly use the Mac’s standard speech recognition feature to learn the alphabet. Spell-Jam being available for both Windows and Mac is probably part of the problem. While all Mac have built-in audio recording capability, the same thing cannot be said for Windows. Still, with the keyboard as the only input method, the best spellers playing Spell-Jam would also need to be decent typists.

Wish list aside, I do have some serious issues with Spell-Jam’s Practice mode. 25 words three times over is too much to ask of a young speller. The words are even presented in the same order! The drill would be less tedious if there were fewer words, and if only misspelled words are used in the second and third rounds. Some mini-games, like crossword or word search, would help, too. Practice mode is where most players probably want to start with. With it being so monotonous, the game as a whole is a big turnoff. As a matter of fact, even with the Game Show mode the whole game is still too monotonous.


Aw shucks, do I hafta go through the same words again and again?


If you plan to use Spell-Jam to get a few studious spellers prepared for a real bee, Spell-Jam can be a helpful tool. It helps if they type well; otherwise their typing skill will affect their spelling prowess. Without a way to customize the words list, less skillful spellers will find the game too hard even with the Easy level. Given the young audience for the game, more variety to the game would make it less monotonous.

Reader Comments (1)

JayCee · June 21, 2010 - 15:48 EST #1
Thank you, Linus Ly! Your review of this game was both thorough and concise. I found it to be extremely helpful.

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