Wot I Think: Hexcells Plus

By John Walker on December 11th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

My favourite puzzle game of the year just doubled in size. Another collection of 36 puzzles, this time far harder than the last. Here’s wot I think:

My cat, Dexter, has been missing for nine days now. Which is horrible. While kitten Lucy is certainly more famous in RPS parts, Dex has long appeared on the site, and indeed in PC Gamer, and best of all, The Cat Magazine. I’ve been pretty much miserable for eight days straight, so it’s with this context that I tell you how bloody delighted I am that there’s a new version of Hexcells released: Hexcells Plus.

I adore Hexcells. I’ve mentioned that rather a lot. The reason being: I adore it. My original review is here, and I eulogised it further behind day 2 of this year’s top 24 advent calendar. Not only is it one of the best pure puzzle games I’ve played (and I’ve played all the pure puzzle games), but it’s also an enormously calming, relaxing experience. Despite the challenge, its ambient atmosphere and symphonic interaction enchants me, lets me feel absorbed, even safe.

That’s just what I could do with right now.

Cue: email from creator Matthew Brown informing me that a new expandalone for the game, Hexcells Plus, is now out. Again it’s only $3, but this time it’s aimed at people who’ve already finished the original. Which means things are much more difficult.

They really are. It eases you back in with the first few levels, reminding you of the rules you’d built up before: a number in a hexagon indicates how many immediately adjacent hexagons are highlighted, how many destroyed. A number at the top of a column or diagonal row tells you the same for the whole line. A number in square brackets, then they can’t be in an unbroken chain, and in curly brackets, they have to be unbroken. And from this unfurls an extremely elaborate and complex series of puzzles. A depth which the previous game just reached before it was over too soon.

The fear in these circumstances is that there will be too much reprise, not enough continuation. That’s certainly not the case here. You’re going to need all the skills and tricks you picked up in the previous game to make headway, pretty much from the start. And the end of the second collection of levels, expect to sit stumped, staring for good portions of your time.

And it’s bliss all over again. Just this time, at a slower, more taxing pace. If you blitzed through the first games’ puzzles and consoled yourself with the super-low price, this time I think people will be celebrating the absolute bargain. It’s going to take an awful lot longer to get through things this time, simply because every puzzle is so much more involved and complex. They’re puzzles to get buried in, wrangle over, declare to the room that there simply isn’t a logical next move and plan on complaining to someone somewhere, before realising yourself and spotting what you’d missed.

There are new features here too. “?” containing cells will be your first confusion, for instance. By the second half you’ll face the new menace of numbers inside blue cells, and the complications they add in. And there has been a minor interface improvement: for those who struggled to usefully follow diagonal rows (me included), you can how click on the number to cast a faint white line along it all. I’ve found this also makes for a nice marker for which lines I’ve completed, unhighlighting them once all the corresponding cells are sorted. This time out there’s a further emphasis on having your clicks implement themselves into the ambient tune, this time with them fractionally delayed to match the rhythm. That’s not so great, for me, as it creates a detachment from the click and the sound, and thus nicks away at the game’s extraordinary sense of flow.

It doesn’t, however, address some of the peculiarities. Levels are still numbered one way in the menus, and another in the puzzles themselves, which makes for much confusion when trying to discuss a puzzle you’re stuck on with a chum. It also still hides the option to switch the mouse buttons over (as any right-minded human would) in the Unity launch settings, and then contradicts your chosen settings in the text in-game. And I remain disappointed that there’s no direct reward system for completing puzzles without mistakes. You require a certain number of earned blue hexagons to unlock later levels, but never enough that it’s punitive (unless you’re terrible at the game, I suppose) such that you don’t have to go back to earlier puzzles to improve on them to progress. That’s good, clearly, but it underlines that the game would benefit perfectionists with a means of expressing to you that you could go back and improve. Just a three-star system, as the much missed HudsonSoft so frequently used so well.

But these are minor grumbles. The puzzles themselves, and clearly this is the most important point, are sublime. They are so well designed, so utterly brilliant in construction and delivery, that I wonder at Brown’s brain. There’s even a wit to them, moments that make me smile as I play, as I realise how carefully and deliberately a puzzle has been designed, giving me a false sense of the rapid progress more familiar from the first game, before suddenly stumping me with a demand that I think farther, push myself to intuit yet another interpretation of the rules to make another logical move. These aren’t the sorts of puzzles a computer could construct – their design requires a human hand, the meticulous selection of given information to make the process of solving as interesting as possible.

It’s $3 – what on EARTH are you waiting for?

, , , , , , .

53 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Haywardan says:

    Waiting? I didn’t even finish reading before I bought it.

  2. Fumarole says:

    John is trying awfully hard to cell this game to us.

  3. SillyWizard says:

    The videos for this game are so fast it’s hard to process what’s going on. Does the game actually play like that, or do they speed up the gameplay in the videos?

    All that apparently frenetic clicking doesn’t make this look soothing at all.

    • Trif says:

      The video is sped up. There is no time limit, you can click as fast as you like.

      • jingies says:

        Hours sometimes pass between clicks. But that might just be me.

      • SillyWizard says:

        Huh. I wonder why they do that so consistently in their videos. Gives the wrong impression.

  4. MiniMatt says:

    Fingers crossed for safe return of puddy cat.

    In my experience they return nonchalantly through the cat flap precisely two hours after you’ve taped “Missing” notices to all the lampposts.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      It’s worth asking around, cats often go and adopt someone else as their feeder.
      One friend thought that they’re cat had gone missing, so they put up posters. A few days later they got a call from someone who said that they too had been feeding that cat, and had not seen it for a similar length of time. Finally the cat reappeared and it turned out that it was also eating at a third family who had gone on holiday and arranged for the cat to be put in a cattery. One cat, three owners/staff.

      • Cleave says:

        One of my cats went round at least 3 houses being fed but always came back to us to sleep. One day he didn’t :( I hope he moved..

  5. moben says:

    Bought!

    Now everyone get to greenlight!

  6. MarkB says:

    Hope your cat turns up. I remember when my last cat was getting up in years she vanished for a few days and it was absolutely awful.

    Glad to hear this game exists, I bought Hexcell after it was featured in the end of the year list and it devoured several hours, although I do remember wishing it was a bit harder.

  7. Horg says:

    Missing cat, I know those feels :( Hope he’s OK.

  8. bit.bat says:

    I hope Dexter is ok and returns home safely!

  9. DXN says:

    Oh no! I hope you find him soon, John.

  10. Artiforg says:

    Can I have a P please Bob?

  11. epmode says:

    I tried out the first game when I read about it on RPS. Lovely game but far too short. I’m so glad that this expansion exists.

  12. Premium User Badge

    amateurviking says:

    Instabuy!

    I do hope Dexter comes home soon John.

  13. The Random One says:

    I don’t really care about Hexcells, but may your kitty return home safely. We all love our dumb kitties!

  14. JackMultiple says:

    Is this one of those games that is “just abstract enough” that once you finish playing through the set, you can start over and not really remember how they worked out? I have an abstract puzzle game I’ve been playing for 20 years, because it’s a Mastermind-like abstract with 100 free puzzles, and there’s just no way to memorize the layout, even subconsciously. So every game is like a brand new experience.

    I might hope this one is similar because 30+ puzzles is not very many. But if you can just keep playing them over and over because they seem fresh, well… count me in.

    Sudoku is another game like that, for me. I don’t need an infinite-number of different games. I could probably replay the same 20 for the next 20 years.

  15. Frank says:

    Okay, you win, Walker. Bought.

    EDIT: And a great game it is! Best thing since Shellblast (which has tactical and arcadey elements, but is otherwise quite similar)!

  16. Premium User Badge

    bonuswavepilot says:

    Hah! I had just emailed the developer asking if there were plans for more levels afoot, and he responded with a link to this. (Very polite he was, too).

    Seriously contemplating leaving work early to get stuck into these…

  17. Premium User Badge

    jrodman says:

    A nitpick, this is not square brackets: -4-

    This is square brackets: [4]

    That is all. :-D

    Lovely review, boughtenated.

  18. Shadowcat says:

    Given that “Hexcells Plus” contains none of the content of “Hexcells”, I have to say that’s a pretty poor and unnecessarily confusing choice of name. It’s more like “Hexcells Plus (H)extra Hexcells Minus Hexcells”.

    (It’s otherwise all good, though, I presume.)

    I hope Dexter turns up safe and sound.

  19. qrter says:

    Hope you’re doing (relatively) okay, John. A missing cat is truly horrible.

  20. Premium User Badge

    ffordesoon says:

    Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people wishing for Dexter to be found soon.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Clement says:

    I was so excited for more Hexcells that I totally did not see that John’s cat is missing. I did not even read the first paragraph. I feel I must apologize.

  22. jingies says:

    You had me at Hexcells!

    I’m hoping that this will help me overcome the guilt I have been suffering after I made a guess on a puzzle in the first one. Forgive me.

  23. Premium User Badge

    phlebas says:

    In the picture illustrating the highlighted lines, see that ’5′ in the top right? You can mark the four cells around the left of it – the column to the right of it contains 3, of which two are already marked, so only one of the two on the right of the 5 can be set, and we’ll need all the others to make 5. Which also means the bottom one of that group of three can be cleared.
    (won’t get a chance to play the actual game until the weekend at least…)

  24. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    Cats do like to walk the land occasionally.

    I hope that’s all it is and he returns from his travels soon.

  25. Tiax says:

    I bought it, but I’m very sad that they didn’t fixed my main complaint with this game:

    DON’T TELL THE PLAYER IF HE MAKES A MISTAKE !

    I mean, seeing as the puzzles aren’t random you can simply brute-force everything.

    And even if you don’t go that way, it’s so frustrating when you make a mistake and the game tells you right away.

    “Oh, so this isn’t a blue cell so I guess it’s a number!”

    I love this game, but this is sooooo frustrating. And I actually know someone whose interest if the game completely faded away when she realised this fact.

    • John Walker says:

      I do agree. But I use DISCIPLINE. If I make a mistake, I start over, so it doesn’t influence. Also, I am insane.

      • Premium User Badge

        Clement says:

        I start over as soon as I make a mistake, as well. I also kick myself. Literally.

      • Premium User Badge

        Clement says:

        I also start over when I accidentally guess correctly. Like when I mark a hex as blue but then I notice that I could not have definitively known that it should have been blue. It happens.

      • Premium User Badge

        bonuswavepilot says:

        Yep, I too prefer to start over than suffer the indignity of a mis-click marring my record. I just finished off the 3rd set of six levels – 3:6 (or.. 18, I guess) was quite lovely – a very small level, leaning heavily on the numbered columns/diagonals mechanic.

        I like how (as I have seen said of slitherlink) you end up developing your own rules for which hexes are safe based on the interaction of the numbers… “Hmm, ok so this is a split 3 and there are only 4 hexes in a contiguous line next to this hex, so the hexes on the ends account for 2 of them…”

        Although I have occasionally found myself inventing utterly spurious rules that seem good at the time too. Managed to bugger a level up twice last night because I had convinced myself that two 5 hexes with one hex separating them would have to share a gap in the overlapping hexes, which is in fact utterly not the case.

  26. scottyjx says:

    Good lanta, level 33 is a fucking bear of a puzzle. I’m gonna be here for another hour or three. This is the best.

  27. DuneTiger says:

    Not to take away from HexCells, but you know what one of the best puzzle games is? SquareLogic, which was unfortunately pulled from the Steam store a couple years ago due to a distribution spat. You can still get it in the Mumbo Jumbo pack, but most of that pack is quite worthless.

    Still, if you can find a way to get your hands on it, it is absolutely fantastic provided you like working with numbers.

    • scottyjx says:

      Oh, definitely! I’ve got at least one million hours put into that game. Do try that out if you haven’t yet, Mr. Walker.

  28. Beernut says:

    Can’t remember when I had more fun with a game. I just reached 100% and enjoyed every moment of it. I’m already hoping for another addon sometime in the future. :)

  29. Shadowcat says:

    Bought, played, completed, and thoroughly enjoyed.

    My sole complaint is with the new numbered blue cells. The subtle shading over the affected area is too subtle :( Accidentally mis-counting the contents of those was by far the most frequent cause of mistakes for me, and therefore absolutely infuriating, because (unlike other ways of making mistakes) I usually hadn’t actually made a logical error, but had simply based a decision on bad data.

    That pretty much sucks, and could probably have been resolved by adding obvious borders around the affected hexes.

  30. Shadowcat says:

    I also encountered a bug in level 34 — the “remaining” count was still at 1 at the end of the level. This was particularly disconcerting because there was still an un-clicked hex left to destroy when I noticed that count, and so I thought the game was playing a new trick on me, and spent several seconds completely unsure of what to do!

    • oueddy says:

      Funnily enough I had the exact same issue, I tried to screencap it so I could email the dev but it didn’t take it right. Thankfully trusted the hex instead of the remaining count!

  31. Premium User Badge

    Llewyn says:

    So now what? What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?

    This is all your fault, Walker.

    PS: My sympathies regarding Dexter. I assume from the lack of update that there was no happy ending?