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The greatest puzzles of 2014: Hexcells Infinite


There really wasn't any competition for this one. As a straight, purest puzzle game, Hexcells Infinite stands heads and shoulders above anything else. As the closing entry of a trilogy, it's the finest, most refined of the three, and a puzzle lover's joy.

John: Well, yes, it's just me for this one! (In fact, it's just me in the entire bloody industry, apparently - as far as I've seen, no other site has reviewed the game, which is such a massive shame.) But let my voice be enough! Hexcells! Hexcells! HEXCELLS!

And this year, most of all, Hexcells Infinite. It is extremely rare that something as special as this comes along. I think the last time it happened was in late 2006 with Hudson Soft's release of the sublime Puzzle Series Vol. 5: Slitherlink for the DS - one of only three games I've ever given 10/10. It's why I've been making such a big deal.

I think, bearing in mind the volume I've written about the three games in this perfect puzzling trilogy (I'm not going to explain how they work again in this article, so do check out the reviews), I should make it abundantly clear that I've never met creator Matthew Brown, only ever emailed to sort reviews, and I think I scare him a little with my enthusiasm. I'm not sure he realised quite what he'd created with that first Hexcells, and the development over the following two games is astounding.

I recently replayed all three games, twice through (probably for the tenth time) after my boy was born last month. Filling in night shifts from 2am to 7am, I was watching season one of the splendidly silly Once Upon A Time on one monitor, and ploughing through Hexcells on the other, and relished the time. And the puzzles are complex enough that given enough time spent playing others, I forget how to solve them the next time I come back to them. Hooray!

Going back to the original Hexcells now, they seem oddly sweet puzzles, and I can blast through the whole game in an hour or so. Hexcells Plus really intuitively brought things forward, added some superb new elements to the puzzles (numbers above columns, and numbers in blue, that further determine surrounding cell contents), and raised the difficulty. By the last couple, they were as tough as I thought they could get. Which is perhaps why Hexcells Infinite was such an incredible surprise this year. It raised the bar once again, without adding any new concepts, but instead even better understanding its own potential. The level of difficulty begins where Plus left off, and climbs, creating by far the most satisfactory puzzles.

On top of that sense that each new puzzle is smarter than you, and you're going to have to level up your brain yet again to get through it, is the gorgeous presentation. It's so simple, but so ideal, cells prettily exploding as you smash them, and then the sound. Each game has tweaked the ambient soundscape further, with your actions playing notes into its beautiful, hypnotic swirl. It's genuinely calming, an incredible way to unwind after a stressful day. I've genuinely hankered to be playing it during some recent tediously stressful times, and physically relaxed as it's loaded up and running.

It's understandable that Brown doesn't want to be trapped making new Hexcells levels for the rest of his life, and he has other projects on the go, so creating the "Infinite" mode (it's not actually infinite, but no one could finish all the mathematically-created puzzles in their lifetime) makes a lot of sense. It's worth noting they're not a fraction as satisfying to play as the hand-crafted challenges, generally a much more pedestrian affair. But heck, better than nothing. But gosh, it wouldn't be a bad thing if he felt compelled to make a few more. Just for me. Because I'm so lovely!

It would certainly help if any other site pulled their collective heads out of some FPS's arse and noticed one of the best games of the last decade that they haven't bothered to cover. Grumble grumble grumble.

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