Review – The Rebus Show for iPad

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Before sudokus, crosswords and Angry Birds became popular forms of puzzle-based entertainment, there was the Rebus. Dating back to the Middle Ages, rebuses are allusional devices that use pictures to represent words or parts of them. They were originally used to represent people’s surnames and tell stories during a time when a majority of the population couldn’t read.

Now, they’re just fun, engaging and challenging puzzles.

The Rebus Show is a fantastic game that brings rebuses to the iPad — not necessarily for the first time, but certainly for the best time. While other rebus apps on the iPad tend to look like poorly drawn Microsoft Paint creations, The Rebus Show is a visual feast … especially for those like myself who love turn-of-the-century art and culture.

The very look of the app is incredibly classy and tasteful. The use of the vintage keyboard, Magic Lantern-style screen and dark, vintage colors make this app really fun to look at. I also loved the use of a Fallout 3 Pipboy-style drawing as the pie-eating young man in one of the puzzles.

The game’s designer, Norman Basham, clearly put a lot of thought and effort into making this app look really good, and it shows.

But just because the game looks nice doesn’t mean it plays nice. Oftentimes, puzzle games can overwhelm the user with stressful situations that only decrease enjoyment of the game instead of increasing it. I’m looking at you, BrainAge for Nintendo DS.

Luckily, this game plays nice. It’s like enjoying a friendly game of Pictionary with a couple of friends who don’t care about flipping the hourglass. There’s no time constraints in the game — in fact, the game encourages the user to take his or her time in figuring out each of the puzzles. This is helpful because some of the puzzles are really hard.

The game instead uses points as an indicator of the player’s success in the game. The user starts out with 100 points in each round, but those points can quickly go down if a mistake is made or a hint is needed in order to complete the puzzle … something I had to do on more than one occasion.

The only downside of the game is the reward system, which barely exists. The only achievements a player can receive are every time he or she reaches a certain amount of points. While this is an important achievement to have, I can think of a few more that would give the player extra incentive while playing the game.

For example, there could be an achievement for completing a certain amount of puzzles in a row without making any mistakes, or completing a series of puzzles without using any hints. There also could be achievements for unique puzzles placed in the game, much like Foursquare puts in unique badges for certain places and events.

In addition, I would like to see the opportunity for users to be able to make their own rebuses in the game, and be able to share them with others. All Norman Basham would have to do is open up his portfolio of drawings to his audience, and he could get an entire network of people sharing new puzzles back and forth with one another.

However, I still loved this game, and I encourage it for anybody who loves challenging puzzles. In addition, it’s a chance for some to get in touch with their European roots … in a way that doesn’t include the Black Death.

Here’s an App Store link for The Rebus Show;it’s currently priced at $1.99.

Disclosure: A promo code for this game was provided by For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

Beth Elderkin

Beth Elderkin is an award-winning multimedia journalist currently working as a news producer in Austin, Texas. She's been a game reviewer for iPad Insight since 2011, and also runs a gaming blog at

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