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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!

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