Lexis, unlike most Lynx games, doesn't come with a background plot: it is, at its heart, a word-spell game, and it thankfully needs little more explanation than that. Lexis does, however, make use of the vertical orientation of the Lynx and the gaming environment is framed in the context of the turning pages of a book, with each "page" creating a different level. The no-nonsense "index" serves as the game's option screen in which difficulty and game type can be selected.
Novice players will probably feel most comfortable with the "page" game, which is similar in play and structure to Klax and provides 99 different levels of fun. Each "page" has a specific goal that is accomplished by spelling words backwards, horizontally, and (a nice touch) vertically. There is, however, no "diagonal" page. Other page challenges include "letter" pages, where players must use a high set number of letters to clear (turn?) each page, and the "timer" page, where time sets a constraint on player strategy. Other game options, such as the "standard" game, allow players to simply spell words without a specific gaming goal. These latter options are best left to people who either want to practice the game or who have an urge to spell out words such as quotient or laceration in a stress-free environment.
Pages are completed when the player spells a designated number of words in the correct fashion. In an unusual twist, the difficulty of each page is increased by increasing the required length of words to be spelled (which ranges from three to a maximum of eleven letters). The pace of dropped letters will not typically increase through advancing levels of
play. Unlike Klax, letters left over at the end of rounds aren't cleared away and add to the challenge of the next level.
Lexis does not reward "pre-consciousness." Players who attempt five letter words on a three-letter word "page" may find that they won't be awarded credit for it. Patience and skill is required for spelling especially long words, as Lexis will try to spell out any complete segments of a word. The word category, for instance, can be further broken down into ego, get, ate, and cat, and Lexis will try to spell all these first before realizing that the goal is, in fact, a longer word. Skilful players will "build" words by spelling the front, middle, and end of the word first before filling in gaps.
Points are awarded according to the difficulty of the word spelled. Complex associations of two, three, and more words spelled at once are awarded with bonus points, and longer words are generally worth "more" than shorter ones. Sadly, words containing uncommon letters such as "q" and "x" are not awarded special point bonuses. This is especially frustrating given the fact that letters are not dropped with the frequency with which they are used in English. You'll find that you get as many "z"s as "e"s, and the playing field is likely to be cluttered with odd consonants at the end of a level.
Players may also preview Lexis' dictionary from the index screen. This is a definite plus given the game's idiosyncratic vocabulary. Lexis does boast a very substantial dictionary of 20,000 words, but veteran puzzle fanatics may initially be stumped by the exclusion of some Scrabblers' favourites such as "ait", "qanat", and "yurt". Lexis will not recognize many foreign words (although common borrow words such as shampoo are, of course, included). Atari, shockingly enough, is not recognized as a word.
Graphics are sober and appropriate to the title. The background is an unappealing dishwater grey, but it's been set that way to help prevent eyestrain. Falling letters are black, and change to red when a complete word has been spelled.
The game's sounds are varied and interesting, but used only sparsely throughout the game. My favourite digitized sound is the turning of each "page" to the next level; it is crystal-clear and identical to the sound of the turning pages in Myst. Even clearer, however, is the female voice of the announcer who introduces each "page". It's the best digitized human speech -- period -- on any game for the Lynx, and is projected right beside you to create the effect of an ever-present and patient (if slightly discouraging) teacher. She sounds more like a librarian than a cheerleader, and will remind you of a number of hated primary-school teachers. Good, in other words, but creepy.
Possibly the best element of Lexis is the abundance of cheats, Easter eggs, and bonuses scattered throughout the game. Unlike most games, cheats in Lexis are activated as part of the game itself -- you have to spell yourself a cheat! The manual advises that players are encouraged to spell the word they think will activate a certain cheat, but this is not in practice always true. "Dear" will, for instance, activate a secret warp that will enable players to access any of the 99 levels of Lexis, but "warp", somewhat inexplicably, does not.
Other cheats result in strange special effects, and, if you're good enough, activate the hidden game of Galaxian. Galaxian may also be activated using the code that Carl Forhan has thoughtfully provided on the Songbird website, but this method does take some practice -- and the code must be entered quickly and with no pauses. Lexis plays a mean game of Galaxian (although sound is lacking), and it is worth the purchase just for this bonus alone.
My copy of Lexis arrived quickly from Minnesota and came packaged handsomely and securely in a CD jewel case. Instructions are well-written and thorough, and provide more than enough help for the average player. I was a little alarmed at first by the game's green PCB board, but it's no less sturdy than the Atari-issued Lynx cartridges and should withstand many years of play.
Carl Forhan issued Lexis on an initial run of only 150 cartridges, and he hasn't yet made another batch. This makes Lexis one of the rarest games for the Lynx, but it shouldn't be; addicting in itself and packed with numerous surprises, Lexis deserves a place in any Lynx library.