A Paladin’s Steam Review: Hexcells, Plus and Infinite. Cheesing in the Cells.

Hexcells Logo

My thoughts on the Hexcells series of number puzzles.

A Paladin’s Steam Review: Hexcells, Plus and Infinite. Cheesing in the Cells.

  • Genre: Minimalist Casual Atmospheric Number Puzzlers
  • Developed & Published by: Matthew Brown
  • Platform: Windows, Mac and Linux
  • Business Model: Base Game
  • Copy Purchased by Myself

Read and rate the Steam review versions of:

  1. Hexcells (original).
  2. Hexcells Plus
  3. Hexcells Infinite

Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Hexcells is a minimalist puzzle game that I like to think of as a combination of Minesweeper and Sudoku. A comparison that has probably been made elsewhere. Every level is basically the same. You’re presented with a variable number of cells with a number in the top right corner telling you how many blue cells there are in the puzzle. The challenge is figuring out which cells are blue and which are numbers. If you guess incorrectly, it’s counted as a mistake that will affect how many points you get at the end of a level. The numbers on or adjacent to cells are telling you how many blue cells are connected to them. It’s up to the player to figure out the pattern by examining the numbers. In general terms, if there are two unknown cells connected to a cell that has the number “2” on it, they’re both blue cells. There are several different mechanics used to confuse the player and make them logic out the solution. Upon completing a level, you’ll be rewarded with points that are used to unlock additional groups of levels. As such, this does requires you to complete most of the puzzles with a minimal amount of mistakes in order to progress forward.

Each puzzle will get progressively harder as information has to be sussed out of potentially confusing layers of facts. Until the ultimate challenge. Each puzzle is good at introducing new mechanics or spins on them as it gets progressively harder and there are some good figuring out moments to be had. There are puzzles that have numbers at the outer edges that will tell you how many blue cells are in a straight line from that number. Numbers may also include qualifiers that state that the blue cells are connected in a set. Or are not connected. Other cells will tell you how many blue cells are in an area around them or that there’s an unknown amount. No visual tricks are used and the numbers are never false. They just might not give you all of the information you need. You may need to work through other parts of the puzzle before you can determine what’s going on in the original area of cells. All you need to do is use logic to figure out the pattern and ultimately solve them. Puzzles generally take about 10 to 30 minutes each depending on how fast the player is. The developer seems to expect them to be solved in a single sitting as they won’t save your position. (Except for Hexcells Infinite which does). For the most part, I found that each entry in the series included more than enough puzzles for the price point.

My Main Issue With Hexcells
Here’s the problem I have with the entire Hexcells series. It’s a pretty good puzzle experience, if you play it how it’s intended to be played. However, I feel that they have a problematic design flaw: all of the puzzles can be cheesily completed. If you’re stuck at a certain sequence, you can just click through the rest of the puzzle making as many mistakes as you like. (I had some puzzles at 50-60 mistakes). What about the points you would get from a near perfect completion? Well, once you nearly finish the puzzle, take a screenshot and then instantly replay the level with your own personal guide. It’s possible to win all three games this way without much effort on your part.

Hexcells, the Original’s Features
The original Hexcells contains 30 puzzles and is the easiest of the three games. I would recommend playing this first just to get a feel of what each title will expect of you. However, it’s not required as each entry does a good job of explaining itself and gradually introduces you to the various mechanics.

Hexcells: Plus Features
Plus is the expandalone title to the original featuring 36 new puzzles and a some new twists. The main new mechanics is a cell that tells you how many blue cells are in a radius around it. Otherwise, the game is as good as the rest and there are some tricky levels in it. It’s not required to be played but if you haven’t gotten enough Hexcells, this adds some more to theoretically sate that hunger.

Hexcells: Infinite Features
Hexcells Infinite is the fully fleshed out title. It has Steam cloud, the most challenging puzzles (36 new ones) and a random puzzle generator. It also has the ability to change the mouse buttons. The random number generator has the same pluses and minuses as most randomly generated systems do. It’s a lot of content but the quality of those puzzles will be all over the place compared the developer’s handcrafted ones. Still, there’s a neat level here and there. Additionally, the player is able to save their place in the puzzle and quit the game if they need to. The other two games do not.

PC Settings & Audio/Video
It’s a minimalist game so there really aren’t many settings to change. Since its running on the Unity engine, the Unity launcher menu pops up when you start the game every time. It allows you to change resolutions and turn fullscreen on/off. The graphics quality is set to beautiful and can’t be changed. However, I was able to play this on a basic, five year old laptop running Linux Mint and there was absolutely no trouble running it. Alternative keys can be changed here as well. Hexcells Infinite was the only game of the three that allows you to swap the left and right mouse button functions.

Hexcells achieves the minimalist style quite nicely so no complaints here. The theme is well thought out and feels like there was some thought put into how the UI and graphics look. The music design is pretty good too with atmospheric electronic beats that allow you to focus on the puzzles themselves.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I think the Hexcells series is a decently executed puzzle idea with plenty of content. I take issue with the lack of anti-cheat but it’s not enough to make it an anti-recommendation. (Thanks to a friend for making a case to change my mind on this). It’s a fun logic number puzzle series. And I did play the three games how it was intended too, with a few exceptions. I had quite a bit of fun deducing the my way through the levels and had several “aha!” moments despite it’s more casual nature. Additionally, it maintains a mellow and atmospheric experience that I can appreciate. While there is the less honorable part of myself thinking “you can just easily ‘cheat’ this game and not spend hours on it”, that doesn’t disqualify it from being a decent puzzle game. So, if you can avoid cheating yourself, get the Hexcells series. But if you can’t restrain yourself from looking up help on even the slightest bit of challenge, I probably wouldn’t get it. Otherwise, it’s kind of up to you.

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