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Word Ladders is a variant on the common word puzzle in which the player must turn one word into another by changing one letter at a time, with each intervening step still being a valid English word. The game is broken into rounds which offer increasingly challenging puzzles; there is an optional Expert Mode which adds further difficulty to play. Each puzzle has a par, which is the number of steps the player is expected to need to complete a transformation. Breaking par causes a penalty to the score, while completing a puzzle quickly leads to a timer-related bonus. Players start the game with three lives, and lives are lost by running out of time or (in Expert Mode only) attempting to create an invalid word.

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