LGR – Super Solvers Spellbound! – DOS PC Game Review

[typing] You ever think back to games you played as a kid and wonder “why the crap did I play that so much?” Super Solvers Spellbound!
is one of those games for me, and I don’t wonder that because
it’s a bad game or anything, because it’s certainly not. I wonder that because… well, it’s just freakin’ spelling. You spell words. That’s it! Whatever the case may be, this
game was awesome to my young self. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that you played an androgynous character wearing nothing but a hat, hoodie and boxers. Or maybe it was because your
character rides a skateboard that’s not in the game whatsoever and I subconsciously adored deceitful cover art. I dunno. But what I do know is that Spellbound is either the fifth or the sixth game,
depending on who you ask, in The Learning Company’s Super Solver Series, succeeding games like Midnight Rescue!, Out Numbered!, and Treasure Mountain! The game was originally
released for DOS PCs in 1991, with slightly upgraded
Windows and Macintosh versions arriving in the years to come. Following in the footsteps of
previous Super Solvers games, Morty Maxwell, aka The Master of Mischief, is once again planning on taking over the world by almost being a nuisance, this time entering the Shady Glen School Spelling Bee, along with his Paintbrush-inspired robotic minions. It’s up to to leave him spellbound by out-spelling him every step of the way. A silly setup that has absolutely no bearing on what happens in the game, but hey! It’s meant for ages 7 to 12,
so what do you expect? Inside the box, you have a piece of blue foam, which is absolutely ideal for not quite piquing the curiosity of your lazy cat. You also get a “read this first” paper that nobody ever reads first, a set of low-density 5¼-inch and 3½-inch floppies to please those who derive pleasure from disks both big and small, a manual covering all the
expected manually manual things, and this Learning Company software catalog, showing what must have been one heck of a party. I mean it. These ’90s kids are undoubtedly having way more fun than should be allowed. Red-faced ginger kid here with
his mind sufficiently blown. Striped-shirt braces kid striking a
successful golfer fist-pump pose. And this random kid completely passed
out on the couch in the back of the room, the insanity of Learning Company games just too much for him to handle. Start the game up and you’re
greeted with some music, and the game’s colorful intro
screen showing off its use of 256-color VGA graphics. Your Super Solvers character walks in from…some…where… and stops to read a message about the Shady Glen Spelling Bee. Once you enter your name,
you’re then given the option to choose the word list that you
want to use throughout the game. There are quite a few already included in Spellbound, covering a variety of age-
appropriate words and subjects. However, there is also the option
to create your own word lists, which really opens the opportunity
for the game to get some more targeted usage. Just be sure THESE words are spelled correctly, as that could get very confusing during gameplay. Then choose your difficulty, which only affects how many
puzzles you have to solve to reach a spelling bee and nothing more. Once you’re finished,
one of the magic garden gnomes from previous Super Solvers games shows up with a fancy red Spellbinder, which is kind of a chunky PDA
that only does word puzzles. At this point, you can choose
one of three different activities, each of which will reward you with points toward a set goal to reach
the current spelling bee. There are five spelling bees,
or levels, throughout the game, and the further along you are,
the tougher things get. The first activity is Word Search, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a word search puzzle comprised of a selection of
words from the list chosen earlier. At first, it’s exactly what you would expect where you’ll find a word that’s
placed pretty normally in the puzzle. Sometimes the words will be backwards, but otherwise it’s not that big of a deal. Until you reach the later levels, that is, where the word will start
to be grouped in diagonal and even totally irregular shapes. I really like these later-level word puzzles because they require a
little out of the box thinking that really appeals to my brain somehow. Next is Flash Card, which is pretty much the only activity where you might not earn all possible points. You’re presented with a set of flash cards with the Master of Mischief
mischievously printed on them, lending some evidence to the theory that he is in fact the one that
gave you this Spellbinder. But I’m not going into conspiracies, heh heh. Just press Space to be flashed with a word and then type the word in correctly from memory. Each time you’re correct, you get some points, but if you miss one, then you
won’t get the full point total. In later levels, you also get the
option to enter a bonus round where the eight words that were
flashed earlier are then scrambled. Descramble them, and spell them, and earn extra points toward your grand total. Lastly, there’s Criss Cross, which is just a simple crossword puzzle. No gimmicks here, just enter
the words from the word list in such a way that they cross
each other in a logical manner. If you fail, well, you really suck because you can’t fail.
It’s just trial and error. Once your score reaches or passes the target score, the spelling bee for the level will be unlocked. And if you have a sound card
that plays digitized sounds, you’ll hear an off-screen spelling bee host introduce the contestants, accompanied by a short little
musical ditty for each one. [female voice] [MIDI rock music plays] It’s worth noting that is
the only point in the game where any kind of actual
sound effects are heard, and that’s the digitized speech. While there are sound effects
in other parts of the game, all are done through MIDI instruments, not unique effects files, so things will sound quite different,
depending on the hardware you have. Anyway, the spelling bees are just like the flash card activity from earlier, except now you have to outlast the others. Once you do that, you’re then
rewarded with a podium scene and are moved onto the
next spelling bee location where you have to do
everything all over again. It follows a pretty logical
path of spelling bees, from classroom to school-wide, to citywide and statewide. All the way up to nationwide
on the freakin’ White House lawn. Eventually, you’ll reach the final
battle against Morty Maxwell, who lasts a few words longer
than the previous robots. He’ll eventually screw up, though. And hooray! You’ve won
the game and saved the world from absolutely no threat whatsoever. And that’s really about it for Spellbound. Just three activities and a spelling bee. Do it five times in a row,
with only slight variations each time, and there you go. Game over in about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the difficulty chosen. Once again, I’m not really sure why
I played the game so much as a kid, but…I did, and I had other games I could have been playing, so it must have been doing something right. Sure, it’s incredibly repetitive and really kind of stale, as far as gameplay goes. But it has bright graphics, cheerful music, some simple but effective animations, and I know for a fact it helped to fuel my current sensitivity to proper spelling. For a kid, it’s fun and teaches some valuable stuff, so I see no real problem with it. And, yes, with the word lists, you can effectively exploit the entire game by using words that are
almost impossible to get wrong, but that’s beside the point. When it’s used properly, Spellbound is an awesome little learning tool and I still think it holds up quite well, even to this day. [MIDI music plays]