Wot I Think: Hexcells

By John Walker on September 13th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

Well this is me consumed. I adore gentle puzzle games, and they gobble up vast amounts of my time. A day doesn’t go by without at least a couple of Killer Sudoku completed, and currently Kakuros help me slide off to sleep each night. I’ve spent literally hundreds and hundreds of hours playing Slitherlinks and Picrosses on my various Nintendo handhelds, and can’t walk past a Nurikabe without shading. But goodness me, the PC is starved of quality offerings in this field. So thank goodness for Matthew Brown Games’ Hexcells. Because it’s absolutely stunning. Here’s wot I think:

Hexcells falls somewhere between Picross and Minesweeper, but is far more than a grab bag of ideas from elsewhere. Adjacent hexagon cells, that need to be shaded or destroyed according to the numbered cells that are dotted throughout. At first – it soon gets more complex.

There’s no doubt that this is most similar to Minesweeper, except crucially, it’s not terribly executed. Unlike all the great puzzles I mentioned above, Microsoft’s freebie is a blight, with its enforced guessing and lack of a fair, logical solution. It should be struck from the records of human history, locked in a lead cage, and buried a hundred miles beneath a desert. Hexcells, thank goodness, takes the gem of an idea that exists within that rotten core, and realises it brilliantly. Here your moves are deduced through reason and logic, and however tricky it might get, if you can’t figure out what to do next, the fault is with you.

Get a couple of puzzle groups in, and the game then evolves, introducing a much more distinctly Picross element. Numbers start appearing on the outside of the grids too, determining how many hexagons must be highlighted in that column. The two rules need to be applied at the same time. Further, should that external number be in curly brackets, that means the hexagons are consecutive (to a degree – gaps don’t count, interrupting numbered cells do). At this point the tactics really start to flow in. So if you’ve a column of seven hexagons, and you’ve got a {4}, you know that the middle cell needs to be highlighted. That there, it may be adjacent to a “1” cell, so you can then eliminate any others that number cell is touching. Oh, and then -3- means they’re not connected. And so on.

Where the game makes a slight misstep is with how it recognises mistakes. Quite unusually for puzzle games of this ilk (although to be fair, this is a pretty original and smart new style), you’re penalised both for trying to destroy an incorrect cell and for incorrectly highlighting one. This has a rather counter-intuitive side effect: it ends up making the puzzles easier, rather than tougher. If you can’t incorrectly highlight a hexagon, then you can’t make a mistake that won’t be discovered until later. Pretty much every great puzzle allows you to make those mistakes, whether it’s putting the wrong number in a lowly sudoku cell, or greying the wrong square in a picross, you can realise you went wrong a while back when you find a dead end. And computer-based versions of such puzzles suit this even better, letting you ‘undo’ your way back to the point of error. Having that taken away from you – and with there being almost no consequences to making mistakes (you need to collect enough not-making-mistake points to open later levels) – ends up unnecessarily simplifying the experience.

I would really love to see highlighting cells be ignored by the game, such that a level is complete once all the correct cells are eliminated. (For the puzzle nerds out there, it minds me of the Wario levels of Mario Picross, but without the twists.) It would smooth things out, and importantly, allow the levels to get harder.

I’m picking, because this is magnificent. Where so often new puzzle games are vague variants on old formats, Hexcells – despite the two easy comparisons – really carves a niche of its own. Which is a massive accomplishment. And it’s interestingly complex, the puzzle revealing itself as you play in a way a paper puzzle never could. That means it does lack that simple perfection, but juggling its many rules becomes a real treat of its own.

It quickly reaches those magnificent moments where you’re working out new rules on the fly, realising that if you apply previously acquired understandings you can make logical leaps and eliminate or highlight in a brand new way. Those are special moments that only very few puzzle games manage.

It’d be nice to see the slightly more response from the menus as to how well you’ve done in previous puzzles. Highlighting those that aren’t yet completed with no mistakes, that sort of thing. But otherwise the presentation is absolutely splendid. It’s elegant, smart, and accompanied by some extremely soothing ambient noise, reactive to your clicks. Elegance seems to be a word that applies to an enormous amount here.

In there are only 29 puzzles, but they’ll keep you going for a good few hours. But you can get the whole lot for just $3, and that’s fantastic, and means it’s worth picking up whether you’re idly curious, or a puzzling aficionado. A really superb creation. I desperately hope creator Matthew Brown is already working on huge piles of extras, because I’m in love with these things, and need some more sharpish.

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33 Comments »

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Top comments

  1. Uglycat says:

    Do I get a gold run if I reach the other side?
  1. beforan says:

    looks hexcellent!

    • Dave Tosser says:

      My hexpectations were rather low, but I’m now a bit hexcited to see it for myself.

    • captaincabinets says:

      I’m very disappointed to see yet another Walker rant on hexism. At least he’s finally admitted that hex cells.

    • arccos says:

      Separating them into two categories is hexist.

    • Odessa14 says:

      I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it.
      Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,

      W­W­W.C­N­N­1­3.C­O­M

  2. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Kind of like a modern Mine Sweeper, then

  3. trjp says:

    I’ve always assumed there are decent PC ‘brain’ puzzles and that I’m just not finding them – because the proliferation of them on the DS suggests the demand is there?

    Only moderately high-profile example I can think of is Everyday Genius: Squarelogic (a Mathdoku/Sumdoku clone) – it used to be on Steam but it’s now only available there through the MumboJumbo pack, which is a real loss because it contains a several metric tonnes of quite challenging puzzles…

    Then there’s http://www.heroglyphix.com/ (used to be WiiPicross.com?) – it was designed to work in the Wii browser but there’s a million Picross puzzles there and a community making more all the time.

    Now I have to take a look at this because – as you say – we need more proper puzzles on PC (not just box push/lever pull nonsense).

    p.s. if you have an iPad, “The Curse” will drive you to insanity quite happily – it’s idea of ‘Easy’ needs some talking to…

    • trjp says:

      Oh it’s from the same guy who did Sentinel – even better.

      I thought Sentinel was a bit tough as TD games went but it’s atmos/music was fantastic – instant buy here I suspect.

    • Deathmaster says:

      It’s on Greenlight too, for the Steamers among us.
      http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=175434866

    • Verzor says:

      One great source of logical puzzle games is Everett Kaser Software at http://www.kaser.com/ which sells over 20 different logic games by the same author. Generous free demos are available for each game, and the full versions contain thousands of puzzles each. I have spent hundreds of hours with their games–each individual puzzle can take from 5 minutes to more than an hour depending on size and difficulty level.

      • trjp says:

        This is the post I was waiting for – there are probably a few sites like that I’d guess

        *heads off to check*

      • Archangel says:

        Logged in to mentioned these, and I’m glad others have discovered Everett Kaser’s puzzle game offerings. They’re all shareware with very generous limitations. They are universally challenging and well-designed, and tons of fun.

    • Premium User Badge

      emertonom says:

      I’m quite fond of both Nurikabe and Netwalk. Nurikabe is also an offline game, but Netwalk is pretty much computer-only. I get my daily fix of both from logicgamesonline.com . They also have sudoku. I think the guy who runs that site has a partially automated algorithm for generating new Nurikabe–I think it generates solvable ones, but he has to manually work out which ones are hard, or something like that. It’s also apparently pretty slow. Upshot is there’s only one puzzle per day. But you can play as much netwalk as you want. You can also find various downloadable versions of that game.

    • PhilWal says:

      It’s browser-based, but I enjoy the collection of puzzles offered at the Conceptis Puzzles website. It’s a shame there’s only one free puzzle of each type per week.

  4. iniudan says:

    With a name like that I see it been popular game for office worker.

  5. Ross Angus says:

    Wait – so this is the new Deus Ex game, right?

  6. GameDreamer says:

    Hexagonical cross platform minesweeper with pre-built static puzzles?? Hmm. Intriguing.

    Free CD Key

    • Hematite says:

      What the?!? Parent looks like spam, but the comment is unique and appropriate to the article. Have we reached the spam singularity?

      • Zeewolf says:

        It’s actually a straight copy of a comment from the game’s Greenlight page. But that just makes it weirder.

  7. Uglycat says:

    Do I get a gold run if I reach the other side?

  8. abbieray says:

    like Diane replied I am alarmed that a mother able to profit $5803 in 1 month on the computer. my site ……………http://www.pick85.com/

  9. Narvius says:

    It’s neat. Grabbed it immediately, spent two hours on it and was not disappointed. It’s an absolute steal, unless you are used Bundle pricing.

    It’s fairly easy, though – I’d be happy to see at least one massive multi-screen level that requires keeping track of waaaay to many facts at once.

  10. racccoon says:

    someone find me the hexit.

  11. drygear says:

    I’ve been enjoying it up until the 4th section and now I don’t quite get it. It’s the one that introduces bracketed numbers inside hexes and says that it means adjacent hexes are connected. I’m not sure exactly what that means- that each hex adjacent to that one should be treated like they are adjacent to each other? But that doesn’t make sense because the first puzzle doesn’t work like that. I’m particularly thrown off in 4-1 by the empty hex with a 2 in it that’s only adjacent to one blue hex. So that hex with a two is somehow connected to only one of the other blue hexes?
    Can somebody explain this for me?

    • Premium User Badge

      Mischa says:

      I think you’re right, that’s an error. That 2 should be a 1. Luckily, I didn’t notice another error like that (And I solved all puzzles.) Then again, I didn’t notice this one.

      Regarding your original question: if you see {3}, and know one blue hex, that indeed means that the other two blue hexes should be adjacent to it. I.e. no blue-blue-yellow-blue sequence.

      • flowsnake says:

        Seems the 2 is corrected to 1 in the version I just downloaded.

      • drygear says:

        Thanks for the replies.
        Okay, it means the blue ones are all adjacent. The wording threw me off because it just said something like “adjacent hexes are connected”.

  12. Radiant says:

    Ever so slightly [er hugely] off topic but is there a decent slitherlink game for ios?