I am a sucker for interior design games. It might be because I enjoy decorating things or because I’m in the sizable demographic of the American people who will probably never be able to own a home, but either way, these games are one of my go-to ways to relax and unwind. I love the idea of refurbishing an old house and buying cute furniture to fill a space. That’s why when I saw gameplay for a game called Word Villas, I was immediately intrigued. In this video, an overly manicured woman’s hand was swiped through a catalog of wall paper before choosing one and completely revitalizing the former dingy room.
Now, because I have some familiarity with mobile games and with context clues, I knew from the name that this game was probably going to involve some sort of scrabble or boggle mechanics and not just let me redo houses with impunity. And I was right. Honestly, the basic gameplay is fairly enjoyable. It’s a boggle type game where you’re given a circle of letters and you have to use your finger to spell out words from those letters, which are then usually put in a crossword puzzle type format. Generally, the higher levels have more letters or longer words. You can also make bonus words, and if you get a chain of enough correct words in a row, you get bonus points. Higher levels require trickier words, and overall, the game seems to scale appropriately. However, there is where my praise for this aspect of the game ends.
The first thing I noticed about Word Villa is that the levels don’t use a consistent dictionary. For example, ‘sot’ will be a valid word on puzzle 265, but not on puzzle 266. The game also doesn’t seem to recognize the plurals of certain words, but the singular form of those same words is considered acceptable. For example, ‘mesa’ was ok, but ‘mesas’ wasn’t. It also doesn’t let you use vulgar slang which is unfortunate, because that comprises roughly 70% of my vocabulary. Most of this can probably be attributed to the game’s translators (or lack thereof). I am fairly confident that Word Villas’ primary translator was Babelfish.com, which is especially evident after you finish a puzzle.
Anyway, each puzzle you complete earns stars, and you can use these stars to either decorate the house, or advance the plot (and I use that word lightly) of the game. The main character is, supposedly, an interior designer. This is important because, despite this being her chosen career path, the game gives no real evidence that she’s any good at it. I say this because the vast majority of choices for these designs are awful. Most of them are these horrendous maximalist assortment of colors and patterns. It’s also a crapshoot whether or not the pieces you pick out will match the rest of the room. For example, I decided to pick a blue and yellow couch for the living room. There was a matching chair, lamp, and end tables. Then, I got to the carpet and wallpaper options (because apparently it’s 1993 and that’s a thing we’re doing in homes again). None of the options matched the furniture, and all of the patterns looked like they had been designed by a colorblind toddler. Obviously, having only tremendously ugly options in an interior design game is not the best choice, but I would have only considered this game ‘mediocre’ instead of ‘awful’ had it not been for the plot and characters.
You see, my sweet little cabbages, there are many parts of Word Villas where you cannot skip character interactions. You must use the stars to advance the plot in order to unlock the next room to renovate. And the plot is simultaneously insipid and truly convoluted.
The premise of the story is that the main character, Rachel, is an interior decorator in LA. One day, she catches her boyfriend cheating on her, and she is so devastated by this that she yeets on back to her hometown — Orange Town. Once she arrives, she finds out that her parents have severely neglected her childhood home. Now, this house, and Orange Town in general, are both pretty ritzy, and her parents certainly seem to have money. Given these factors, perhaps the least believable aspect of Word Villas is that no one in Orange Town ever complained that the condition of this property clearly violated several local ordinances. Where I live, people complain if you have too many cars parked in the driveway, but apparently the citizens of Orange Town are fine living next door to a house that looks like it should be the setting for a PSA about the dangers of methamphetamine use.
I assume that the creators of Word Villas intended for Rachel to read as likable. I however, find her profoundly, cartoonishly, stupid. She randomly decides that turning her home into a bed and breakfast is a great idea. You would think that Rachel might have checked with her parents about the state of the house before she decided to visit, but I’m honestly convinced that Rachel gets too distracted by reflective surfaces to ever follow through on anything. She also has this really off putting full-body laugh where she stomps her feet and giggles at the same time. Rachel is built like the cursed offspring of a bobblehead and a Disney princess, so it is sort of miraculous that she’s able to do that (or anything else for that matter), without promptly falling over. I imagine if some sort of terrible magic brought her to life, she would look like one of those people who is 90% plastic since her proportions are utterly impossible.
Rachel brings along her cat Max. Max clearly has some sort of gigantism since he appears to be roughly the size of a standard poodle. Rachel constantly fat shames him, despite feeding him toast, cake, and every other type of human food imaginable. You might think that’s an adorable interaction between human and animal companion. And, I would tend to agree were it not for the fact that the majority of the characters in Word Villas have major food issues. Rachel and her childhood best friend Betty worry about getting fat a number of times. Then, we are introduced to the character of Alex. He is framed as being Rachel’s new love interest. Again, I think we are supposed to like this character. Alex is a surfer/fitness bro whose hobbies include insulting Rachel’s windows and telling women that they shouldn’t eat cake because it has too many calories (seriously, the cake thing has come up at least three separate times). Rachel appears to be enchanted by his negging, which I think is partially due to the fact that she has about as many brain cells as a sea sponge.
Most of the female characters in this game are either the shallowest human beings alive, or old biddies, and not the fun, Judith Lange kind. In addition to Rachel, we meet Caroline (or Carolyn, because this game really cheaped out on editors). Like Rachel, she also has impossible proportions and is so dumb that walking and talking at the same time would probably be hazardous. She is allergic to the sea breeze, which is something that the story makes sure we know. Now, I’m not exactly sure how someone can be allergic to sea breezes (or why someone who was allergic to them would decide to come to a beachfront town in the first place) but as I said, Caroline appears to be fundamentally incapable of taking care of herself. This is further explored in her weird, abusive relationship with her (male) housekeeper. Apparently Caroline’s housekeeper tells her what she needs to eat so that she can “maintain her nice figure”. This includes eating no more than 800 calories a day. Word Villas, ever the progressive champion of representation, seems to frame this as a both an acceptable amount of calories for a clearly underweight woman to eat, and as an appropriate interaction between a female boss and a male employee. It is not. It is harassment, and she should fire his fat-shaming ass. Caroline also routinely complains about being hungry, and part of me wonders if her inability to say anything that makes sense is due to the fact that she is literally starving. Of course, it could just be sloppy translators and bad coding.
We also meet Rachel’s parents, Bob and Kylie. Bob is definitely the nice parent. His main purpose seems to be to stand around like a doofus and endlessly support all of Rachel’s terrible decisions. In contrast is Rachel’s domineering mother Kylie. We are generally supposed to assume that Kylie is some sort of shrill Type A tiger mom. Her only real purpose seems to be to criticize Rachel’s every decision, despite the fact that she’s probably right that ditching town and quitting your job with no backup plan is not an appropriate reaction to being dumped. She also made Rachel get a bookcase for her room as a child when all her daughter wanted to do was sit and preen like a goddamn red-vented cockatoo for hours at a time. Clearly someone should have called CPS.
In case you thought that the game was just sexist, let me assure you, Word Villas also has about as much casual racism as an Ivy League frat party. There appear to be two Characters of Color in the game. Edward, the gardener, is an Asian man who is portrayed as being ‘mysterious and shy’. To show this shy and mysterious side, he stands outside of Rachel’s house for long periods of time, skulking about in the darkness. Rachel and Alex confront him about this creepy behavior, but then it is brushed off, because apparently this game takes stalking about as seriously as the US government does. He likes plants more than people which, honestly, same.
Then comes Taylor, the delivery man. Taylor would be fine were it not for the fact that he appears to be a twelve year old playing Amazon Fulfillment Center. He’s also the only Black character in the game and a lot of the other characters call him ‘boy’. I’m unsure exactly how much of this is overt racism and how much of it is poor translation/Taylor’s young age, but given that they also make a big deal about him breakdancing, I’m not thinking Word Villas is known for their nuanced portrayal of characters of color.
There are a few more characters in the game, including Rachel’s shitty ex-boyfriend who tries to sabotage her bed and breakfast, and the nosy older neighbor lady. Other than being one-dimensional and irritating, they add nothing to the story. Many of the quests that the player has to accomplish are related to these characters, and to building Rachel’s relationships with them. For example, Rachel decides to throw several hundred parties in the middle of renovating her otherwise uninhabitable house, because that’s the kind of mental acumen our protagonist is known for. Again, these party scenes and quests would probably be fine were it not for the poorly edited and incredibly shallow dialogue. Here is a list of several of my favorite quotes from Word Villas. Trust me, they don’t make any more sense in context:
- “I need to stare at the pizza to make sure it doesn’t burn!”
- “Dear, I know you care about me. But you really are thinking too much.”
- “A small step for Rachel is a big development in the realm of human food!”
- “Perfect outdoor floor tiles to make your house as durable as a castle!”
- “Just enjoy the afternoon tea and be careful not to bite your tongue.”
I’m starting to suspect that Tommy Wiseau wrote this game, actually.
I can honestly think of several thousand activities I would recommend over playing Word Villas, and at least four of those activities include major dental work. However, if you’re the type of person that enjoys poor grammar, offensive stereotypes, and inconsistent gameplay, you can find Word Villas on the app store.