Hexcells Infinite: Wot I Think

I wasn’t subtle about how much I enjoyed Hexcells last year. The original Hexcells appeared from nowhere in my inbox in September, and I fell instantly in love. The second game, Hexcells Plus, arrived in December, after we’d already decided the original deserved a spot in our top games of 2013. I’ve replayed both games multiple times, because it’s a puzzle game of exquisite pleasure, delivered with calm poise and utter beauty. I was primed to think I might quite like Hexcells Infinite. Here’s wot I think:

Of course I like Hexcells Infinite. It’s utterly wonderful. It’s sublime, in fact. The ambient air, the utter magic of quick solving literally making music, while quiet, steady solving feels like massive victory after victory, and the sense of artistry behind the crafting of the puzzles, puts this a level above. This third and final (sniff) instalment is by far the hardest so far, another 36 puzzles that quickly reintroduce all the concepts from the first two games, and force you to think harder that ever.

Hexcells offers that ideal position of apparent simplicity, but a depth of complexity. You have to either colour a hexagon blue, or delete it. That’s it. The rules by which you know how to do this at first feel reminiscent of Minesweeper, but it quickly becomes apparent how poor a comparison this is. This isn’t random hope – it’s precision calculation. Each puzzle requiring you to take in all the available information, and then make leaps of logic in order to apply them. What were once relatively simple but engaging puzzles in the original game are now hour-long studies, where you become certain there’s a mistake, that there’s no possible move left to discern, maybe walk away for a while, and then come back to realise it, and feel like you changed the world.

One of the key things about playing Hexcells is how brilliant it makes you feel about yourself to find a next move. It’s hard to resist calling other people into the room and point at the screen, explaining just how clever you have to have been to have known that hexagon should be blue. You should resist that though – people won’t understand. But I understand. I will always understand.

Once again the game has an ambient mix of music in the background, into which your clicks add tones. I was slightly annoyed by a delay being added to Plus to allow this to become more musical, but I’ve been totally won over by the idea this time around. It’s ridiculous how calming the atmosphere becomes, countering a desire to tear your hair out at not spotting your next move.

And with infinite, creator Matthew Brown frees himself of obligation to keep making more puzzles with the creation of a random puzzle generator. Put in an 8 digit string, and it’ll create a puzzle unique to that number. It has an option to randomly pick a number, or lets you use today’s date to offer a notion of a daily challenge. Or you could go loopy and just start at 00000001 and work your way up.

Of course these randomly generated puzzles do not equal the hundred or so Brown has hand-made – it’s immediately a different experience, the sense of craft removed. They tend to be more sprawling, less refined. But I still find them a giant heap of fun to play. In fact, after staring in utter bemusement at the final six puzzles in the main game for many hours, having a large-but-easier version of the game is a very pleasant alternative.

With the ability to share the code for a particularly good auto-generated puzzle, it seems like a community will soon collate the best numbers to paste in, creating unofficial extra “packs” for the game. It’d be lovely to see an option for something like that built into the game – a way to favourite a strong puzzle, to build your own mini-collections to share with others. For the moment, it’s pasting them into a Notepad, I guess.

A couple of frustrations from the previous games are fixed, too. No longer are the game level numbers weirdly different in the menu screen and in-puzzle. And the option for switching the mouse buttons over (as all good people will) is now nice and clear, and flagged up as an option when you start. There’s still no clear presentation of which puzzles you’ve finished without making mistakes, however, which is a bit of a shame. Just having a puzzle group turn gold when you’ve perfected it would add a lot for
puzzle-perfectionists like me – as it is, it’s not possible to even tell which puzzles you’ve so far fallen short on.

It remains very cheap – just $5 for enough puzzles to keep you busy for many, many hours, and indeed an infinite number more to keep you busy for the rest of time.

And it’s just a ludicrous pleasure to play. Brown is clearly a very smart chap, and as you play through the puzzles here you’ll notice how he’s obviously been setting himself challenges in the designs. Puzzles are fitted into particular patterns, or made remarkably small while remaining deeply complex, as if he’s trying to find ways to push himself in their design. It pays off, especially if this is your third time sitting down with the concept.

Despite the infinite mode, it’s a massive bummer that this’ll be it for Hexcells challenges crafted by Brown. But it goes out in particular style.

Hexcells Infinite is out now on Steam, for £5, with a bundle of all three games for just $9. You can also buy the game directly from its developer.

38 Comments

  1. bateleur says:

    “This third and final (sniff) instalment is by far the hardest so far”

    Sold! My one objection to the original was that it stopped before getting challenging. This should be fun! :-D

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      Aerothorn says:

      As someone who barely made it through the final puzzles of Hexcell Plus, I am deeply afraid of this one…

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        particlese says:

        Yeah, I’m simultaneously terrified and super-excited to play this one because of that. One of the final puzzles in Plus I had to restart about 20 times because I always restart immediately after any mistake (which handily avoids John’s mark-of-perfection nitpick) and was playing too late into the night: I kept making logic mistakes or clicking the wrong mouse button at inopportune moments, and then forgetting what the jump of logic was that had gotten me past a difficult point previously. I haven’t played in months, but I can still picture a couple sections of that puzzle.

        And I can’t wait for more. >8D

      • Person of Con says:

        There was definitely a point in HexCells Plus where I thought “maybe this game is too smart for me. Maybe I am not smart enough to finish this game.”

  2. amateurviking says:

    The best games can make you feel like you’re having a conversation with the designer on an abstract level.

    Hexcells does this. It’s a beautiful thing.

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    tigerfort says:

    it’s not possible to even tell which puzzles you’ve so far fallen short on.

    If you made mistakes, the menu hexagon for that puzzle is flat blue, whereas perfectly completed puzzles have a 3D-ish shaded effect. It’s pretty distinct on my screen. (In the first two games, at least; haven’t had a chance to play Infinite yet.)

    But yes, more Hexcells is an excellent thing. (Toddles off to buy it from the creator.)

    • Awesomeclaw says:

      I’m not sure that this is strictly true. I believe that the 3d shaded effect is given to puzzles which you have collected all of the points for, but it is possible to make one or two mistakes on some puzzles and still receive all of the points.

      To be honest, I prefer it this way since it means that if I misclick it doesn’t undo the last hour’s puzzle solving. IMHO, having to literally perfectly execute a puzzle to obtain top marks for it would be an episode in tedium.

      • Bernardo says:

        I’ve managed to misclick with the right mousekey a few times, just sitting there, thinking, with my hand on the mouse and suddenly my finger gets too heavy or I have the wrong automatic reaction. I’m so glad that it’s now possible to change mousekeys.

      • thenevernow says:

        It is true, in the game’s own way. Completing a puzzle with 1 mistake is still considered “perfect”, so you get the shaded effect and all the points.

        For those struggling to notice the effect, here’s an example where puzzles 3-3 and 5-2 are *not* perfected.

        link to imgur.com

        Yeah, that’s where I stand, huge backlog, I like to savour games, bla bla. :)

  4. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    It really is one of the better puzzle games I’ve played. Thanks for introducing it to me, John, I doubt I would’ve given it a second look if you hadn’t been so adamant of its brilliance.

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    Aerothorn says:

    John, I want to personally thank you for turning me on to Hex Cells. I’ve never enjoyed a puzzle game this much.

  6. Laurentius says:

    Hexcells is brilliant. More of it is great !

  7. KDR_11k says:

    It’s not quite as satisfying as Picross since there’s no picture that comes out at the end and makes all the little deductions come together as a whole but it’s still quite good. You did play Picross 3D though, right?

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      John Walker says:

      Oh my goodness, I love Picross 3D so much! I reviewed it for Eurogamer, but I guess it was never run or something. But I gave it a 10!

  8. golem09 says:

    I literally hate the overuse of the word literally.

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      John Walker says:

      But presumably you’re cool with someone’s using it only once, and appropriately, to remove ambiguity from a sentence?

  9. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    It’s Sudoku without a dominatrix grid slapping your fingers for daring to miscount fifty moves ago.

  10. MajorManiac says:

    I like the payment model for this game.

    Its being sold ridiculously cheap, but we can add extra to support the dev. It definitely worth at least double the asking price.

    • Colonel J says:

      More ridiculous, the first one is currently £0.69 in the Steam weekly sale.

      And even that I didn’t have to pay, when I went to look at buying the games after reading this today I found that I already own Hexcells from a bundle that I don’t remember buying. If it’s as good as John says I’ll do the devs a solid and buy Plus and Infinite direct from them.

      • Robmonster says:

        Wow, I hadn’t spotted that. Thanks! I just used the money earnt from selling those useless steam cards to buy this, essentially it was free.

  11. MashPotato says:

    This sits downloaded, on my computer, tempting me while I work.

  12. Hematite says:

    Whoa, the first move in 3-1! The puzzle design is more masterful than ever.

  13. Bernardo says:

    “One of the key things about playing Hexcells is how brilliant it makes you feel about yourself to find a next move.”

    Oh yes, that’s the sweet spot. But the shame! The shame I feel when I thought I was so clever, but I was not. And there is a blue rectangle showing “1”, mocking me with its oneness that betrays its lack of nothingness.
    There is more drama in Hexcells for me than, say, Mass Effect.

    Also, can someone recommend a puzzle game that reaches the heights of SpaceChem and Hexcells so I can get my fix after I have realised that, in fact, even Infinity will come to an end eventually?

    • LTK says:

      It’s a very different sort than both of them but you would do well to give Sokobond a try.

      • Bernardo says:

        Looks good, thanks! I just remembered that I also like English Country Tune a lot.

    • siepu says:

      Try jelly no puzzle its the best puzzle game ive ever played

      • Bernardo says:

        wow. I just tried the first levels, that one’s fantastic. and free! Thanks.

      • Crispy75 says:

        Jelly No Puzzle is only for the hardcore. The first couple of levels are pleasant and then it just starts smacking you upside the head. Its flaw is that the solution has to be chipped away at with lots of retries, and it’s almost impossible to tell if you’re making headway or not. Very frustrating, and requires a superhuman memory.

    • Samuel Erikson says:

      If you have an Android or Apple phone and you enjoy word puzzles, Bonza is excellent.
      Bonus: John Walker designed a set of puzzles for it.

  14. LTK says:

    Aw heck, I only made it halfway through the article before hitting the ‘buy’ button and getting a head start on those puzzles. I’ve played enough of them now that I have enough logical shortcuts burned into my brain to breeze through the introduction levels in a few minutes, but after that it’s the challenging puzzles that I’m used to. There goes my evening!

  15. Armante says:

    I never did solve the very last puzzle in Hexcells Plus, but I did every other one perfectly. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one. Thanks John for sharing your deep joy for this one – it’s been a great game.

  16. ravencheek says:

    So what is the actual game play like?
    You went through a whole “Wot I thunk” and didn’t mention what you actually have to achieve in this game. Or is it just assumed that because I am too stupid too have played the previous two games, I’m not allowed to know how the game works? It’s like being unpopular and not knowing what all the cool kids are talking about.
    From the trailer it looks like minesweeper but hex instead of squares? Am I close?

  17. Crispy75 says:

    Were the previous Hexcells games in stereo? I just noticed that the position of the hex on screen influences the panning of the plinky sounds when I click them. How lovely :)

  18. Didero says:

    With the original Hexcells currently being really cheap on Steam, and the second game being in the current Indie Royale bundle, it’s pretty cheap to feel smart and dumb at the same time by playing this game.

    Thanks John, for making me play this game!

  19. Person of Interest says:

    Infinite is such a large number… 100,000,035 new puzzles sounds much more manageable.

  20. Shadowcat says:

    More Hexcells is great news, but I do have one serious complaint about this iteration, which is regarding the visual highlighting for the “two hex radius” areas.

    This was a new puzzle type in Hexcells Plus, and while I liked the nature of the puzzle itself, I came to loathe the levels which featured them heavily, on account of the difficulty I had in seeing the extent of each radius; especially when they overlapped.

    In the new game, it seems that an attempt has been made to add emphasis by gently pulsing the area in question. Unfortunately this (a) doesn’t really make it easier to comprehending the situation, and (b) gives me a headache. I’m still forced to stare hard, trying to work out what’s going on, and now everything is pulsing unpleasantly as I stare at it.

    This is distressing, to say the least. I absolutely love these games, but I don’t know if I can play this one any more :(

    A simple contrasting outline (and no pulsing) would solve everything!

    • Shadowcat says:

      Hurrah! The latest version includes an outline option with no pulsing!

      It’s actually kinda hard to see where to activate it, but there’s a new toggle in the lower-left corner beside the mouse button and audio toggles.

      I wish the outline colour was more contrasty than it is (the grey still very much blends in against the black hexes; it really should be a completely different colour to anything else on the screen), but nevertheless this is still a massive improvement over the original approach.

      Certainly there’s no more reason for anyone to hold off buying the game on account of the pulsing effect.