The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 2

What? Sorry? No, sorry, I don’t have time to write an introduction to an advent window. I’ve started playing the game inside it again, and I’m… look, just open it yourself, I need to keep playing.

It’s Hexcells!

John: There is precisely one game this year where I’ve emailed the developer, demanding he make more of it. Twice. And that’s Hexcells. I’m fully aware that few others care as much about this game as I do. Hell, I’m the only one on RPS. But there’s a reason it’s in the calendar on my vote alone, and that’s because in my calendar, it would have come damned near the top spot.

I recently saw another industry peep saying it was just like Minesweeper, and I launched a nuclear assault. Hexcells is like Minesweeper the way having dinner at the Waterside Inn is like eating out of a bin. Minesweeper is one of the worst puzzle games ever made. Hexcells is one of the best. It really is. It really is one of the best puzzle games I’ve played.

The concept requires marking or deleting hexagonal cells, according to a numbered cell they’re touching. And while that’s technically the principle behind Minesweeper, this bears more in common with Picross or Nurikabe. As the game goes on, more complicated instructions appear, with numbers for rows and columns indicating more specific instructions, further increasing the complexity of how you find a solution.

As I’ve said a few times before, I’m a puzzle game obsessive. I’ve dedicated literally hundreds of hours each to masterpieces like Slitherlink, Pic-Pic and Illust Logic. I devour Picross in all its varieties, and can’t have an early-morning sit-down without completing a Kakuro. (In fact, and this is no word of a lie, my wife gave me a roll of sudoku-printed toilet paper today.) I have very high standards. Hexcells meets them, and the only problem I have with the $3 game is that there just isn’t enough of it.

There are 30 puzzles, introduced sublimely, with new concepts arriving most of the way through. A puzzle from near the end seems completely impossible when you’re starting out, but by the time you reach it chronologically, it looks like a ball-pit of fun to dive into. And it’s all perfectly logical.

That’s why Minesweeper is a terrible game. It requires guessing. No good puzzle game should ever require guessing. There should always be a logical pathway, a means of solving a next move, even if it’s madly complicated to notice. Having just finished Picross e3’s remarkable Mega Picross mode last night, I’m strongly reminded just how important and rewarding that can be. And Hexcells delivers on this perfectly. Perhaps it never gets quite difficult enough, but then there’s always Hexcells 2, right Matthew Brown? Right? Right?

Another aspect that can’t go under-celebrated is the sound. A puzzle game needs no audio at all. Invariably I’ll switch off the bleeps and bloops most of them make, for the sake of listening to something else as I hammer away. But Hexcells’ audio adds so much. It’s utterly beautiful, gentle ambient music swirling around you, working in the plinks and plonks of your clicking cells into the tune. It creates an amazing atmosphere, so calming, that I just want to lie back in it and relax all the time forever.

There’s a criticism to be made. It really needs some sort of reward system to incentivise repeat play. Right now it counts how many mistakes you make, but they don’t affect anything significant, and there’s no limit before you ‘lose’ a puzzle. It would be fantastic if it awarded stars, or similar, depending upon how well you do, thus giving you a reason to go back and improve. But beyond that, I can only complain about the brevity, and then I remember it costs $3 and that doesn’t seem fair either.

I need more. I’ve completed it more than three times through now, so much have I enjoyed it. And for such a tiny price, if you’ve a love for puzzle games, you can’t miss out on this one.

Back to the calendar!


Top comments

  1. plsgodontvisitheforums_ says:

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    John! Er or everyone else.

    What did you ever think of Hexic? (Forget the garbage Hexic 2, unless you think the original is garbage too).

    I keep going back to that free one given on the 360, there’s something to the feeling you get when you get a few black pearls, and then accidentally join them up and lose them :(

  2. zachforrest says:

    That toilet paper sounds good. I don’t count a sudoku completed until i’ve smeared my own shit on it, and although the journalism in the Guardian is perfectly suited to clear up excrement from around my arsehole, the paper stock is not.

  3. golem09 says:

    The one puzzle game I fell madly in love with this year was Spacechem. Nothing was the same ever again.
    Now I’m playing kind of the opposite to the whole design philosophy: Spell Tower. Sucks when you’re german.

    • Lambchops says:

      Wouldn’t be an RPS end of year list without a mention of Spacechem.


      Been meaning to get around to trying this though, John’s puzzle game recommendations are usually good ones.

    • rocketman71 says:

      Amen, brother. Spacechem is so good that it deserves to be game of the year 2012 & 2013.

    • Sir Buildbot Winslave says:

      Spacechem really is utterly sublime :)

  4. S Jay says:


  5. Sagan says:

    I am with you on this one. After your review I bought the game right away and finished it right away. And ever since then I needed more.
    Have you played his other game? It’s completely different, being a tower defense game, but I would be interested in finding out whether it’s good.

  6. Meusli says:

    But it’s just Microsoft Mines?!?1!?!!1!!?

    Waits for John to beat him up.

  7. amateurviking says:

    It’s only $3: buy it!

    It is brilliant but there must be more. Also, Mr Brown is really nice – I had a problem getting the mac version to run (problem with the unzupper I was using) and he was very helpful.

    More please. Thanks.

  8. Meat Circus says:

    I like the colours. Just the right shade of blue and orange for a puzzle game.

  9. Low Life says:

    This game looks like something people would play in the waiting room of a LIMB clinic. I would certainly buy it for the aesthetics alone if puzzle games were my thing in any way.

  10. LionsPhil says:

    If you want a version of Minesweeper without guessing, try Simon Tatham’s implemenation (see the third paragraph).

    It’s an excellent collection, with that property (and portability) being key principles of it.

    • Lambchops says:

      ” Ensure solubility
      When this option is enabled (as it is by default), Mines will ensure that the entire grid can be fully deduced starting from the initial open space. If you prefer the riskier grids generated by other implementations, you can switch off this option. ”

      That typo made me giggle. If there’s one way I like my mines, it’s soluble.

    • Josh W says:

      What an absolute goldmine!

  11. iaguz says:

    Good recommendation john. I’m not normally one for puzzlers but I figured if this was top 25 of the year then it’s probably worth a look. Well paced, tickles the brain when you get it right, beautiful presentation and stabs you in the heart when you misclick. A very enjoyable hour and a half. There just isn’t enough of it, as you say.

  12. Insidious Rex says:

    Well I just bought and finished this game and I concur. I only have 2 minor gripes with the game.

    It would’ve helped me if you could highlight the numbers that describe the amount of blue cells in a column and the column would be highlighted as well. My silly brain had a problem seeing which cells were in the same diagonal column.

    My second problem is the same as John’s, I need more puzzles now!

    Fantastic puzzle game and I hope they have a massive sales spike because of this post.

  13. DrGonzo says:

    Minesweeper is a brilliant game. I will be trying this even though you try your hardest to put me off it

    • pepperfez says:

      Indeed, I’m starting to understand the frantic rage of the resident John-Walker-hating trolls. Minesweeper is probably the single most perfectly designed thing to have ever been a part of Windows and has sustained me through many tough times. I find the forced resort to guessing creates a sort of tension that isn’t common in such abstract games – you’re never truly safe until the whole grid is clear.

  14. drewski says:

    minesweeper is the spelunky of puzzle games

  15. mineshaft says:

    You can’t randomly generate these puzzles because there are multiple pieces of information you could reveal for each cell. At some level the computer would have to decide which piece of information would be more fun for you to have. For games like this it would be walking the line between making the grid trivial to solve and impossible to solve.

    The reason why there aren’t more puzzles is that on the current state of affairs, each hexagonal minesweeper grid must be curated. This is not scalable.

    I had played Minesweeper on strange grids before, including hex, so I didn’t feel it was that special.

    It also makes a bizarre decision to swap the mark/explore mouse buttons.

    It’s not all bad but I would buy it on sale.

    • Melliflue says:

      Are you suggesting waiting for a sale on a game that is normally $3?

  16. Melliflue says:

    I enjoyed this game a lot, although I did find it a bit hard at times to follow a column when it was broken up with gaps. This made it difficult when there the numbers at the top/side of a column. I would have found it helpful if, for example, moving the cursor over the number highlighted the column to make it easier for me to count the number of marked cells.

    I did need to swap the controls over. It felt backwards to me :p

  17. Clement says:

    You sold me before the first screenshot. I haven’t even read anything past the first two paragraphs and I already clicked and purchased.

    • Clement says:

      I keep clicking the wrong damn button and then I feel compelled to restart because must have zero mistakes.

      Damn you all to heck, Mr. John, this is not healthy behavior.

  18. gwathdring says:

    Huh. I’m having trouble understanding where the puzzle part is. From the trailer and screenshots it looks more paint-by-numbers-y than puzzle-y. Can someone explain it to me a little more?

  19. epmode says:

    This is why I read RPS.

    I put down $3 and I’m really enjoying this game. Who knew that a Minesweeper/Picross cross would be so good?

    Great music too.

    More levels pls.

  20. Chuckaluphagus says:

    As if I didn’t already have enough great games to play. Purchased, tested, find that my time has suddenly disappeared. Bah!

  21. meepmeep says:

    This was brilliant, but I finished it in about an hour and was left with a feeling of, “was that all?”.

    Too few levels. MORE PLEASE

    Also, for features, it’d be good to have the satisfied indicators change colour so you can ignore them from that point.