Hexologic Switch Review
Interesting puzzle mechanics that pay homage to Sudoku
Charming and peaceful aesthetic
No menu to speak of
Difficulty remains more or less consistent
Cumbersome controls when docked
Puzzler of a Port
Puzzle games and handheld gaming devices have had a long and storied relationship. The original Game Boy launched with Tetris way back in 1989, and since then, people have been pulling out their portables to get a quick puzzle fix. With the advent of the smart phone, and the subsequent app stores that allowed for the development and sale of downloadable games, puzzle games are as popular as ever, and it’s a safe bet that most people have some sort of puzzle game handy when they’re bored. Enter Hexologic, a puzzle game in the same vein as Sudoku, which it pays copious homage to, and unashamedly so. It originally released on mobile platforms, but has now made its way to Steam and Nintendo Switch, the version reviewed here. With much more powerful hardware at its disposal, the question remains. Does publisher and developer MythicOwl take advantage of the new hardware?
While undoubtedly inspired by Sudoku, there are some key differences that separate the two. Hexologic takes its name from the hexagon shapes that its puzzle grids are made of, and these shapes allow for a nearly limitless way for these grids to be laid out. Inside each individual shape, the player can either put one, two, or three dots, and attached to various hexagons are arrows, with a number inside, indicating how many dots need to be in a line of hexagons leading away from the arrow. For example, if there is a line of two hexagons, and the arrow has a four inside, then the player needs to put either three dots in one and one dot in the other, or two dots in both, in order to equal to the four indicated by the arrow. The challenge, a term I’m using loosely, comes from the fact that many of these lines of hexagons are adjacent, forcing the player to look at multiple arrows and find the right number of dots that appeases all the arrows. Once every arrow is satisfied, the puzzle is completed. This remains consistent throughout the games sixty-plus levels, which are broken up into four fifteen-level worlds.
Another thing that remained consistent was the difficulty, which, disappointingly, remained pretty easy throughout. Each world adds a small gameplay wrinkle, like fixed shapes that cannot be changed, or special shapes that change two or three other shapes at the same time when tapped, but they did little to make the grids more challenging. For younger people, this might not be a problem, but for older gamers or seasoned puzzle gamers, there is certainly something to be desired in the way of challenge. Even the hidden levels, unlocked by completing the rest of the levels in a world, were little more than bigger grids, which only seemed to add to the time it took to finish, rather than ramping up the difficulty of the puzzle itself.
Being a mobile port, the game lends itself very well to touch screen controls. While undocked, the player simply touches a shape once to place a dot, twice for two dots, and three times for three dots. Touching it one more time will leave the shape empty. When docked and playing with a controller, however, things get more complex. First off, it takes too long to move quickly between shapes with the analog stick. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was enough of an annoyance that I avoided playing docked if I could. The method for placing dots is different as well. The number of dots a player wishes to place are mapped to individual face buttons: press Y for one dot, X for two, and A for three. Pressing the B button will mimic what the touch controls do, meaning that the number of button taps corresponds to the number of dots placed. Overall, I found that touch controls offered the quickest and most satisfying way to play, which makes sense considering the original mobile design of the game. When either docked or undocked, pressing the pause button in the corner brings up what limited options are included in the game. You can either reset the grid, exit to the level select menu, resume the game, or turn off the music.
Speaking of the music, while it didn’t strike me as especially memorable, it did a fair job of setting the relaxing mood. I did find it interesting, however, that the musical track changes tone based on which of the four worlds you’re in. For example, in the water world, the music has a sort of otherworldly, echoey quality that is common in underwater levels of games (think Donkey Kong Country), while the desert world adds acoustic guitar sounds. This is a neat touch, but it does little to change the fact that the music itself is just not that interesting. If Tetris taught us anything, it’s that puzzle games can most definitely have memorable soundtracks.
Puzzle games, particularly mobile ones, are not known for their stunning graphics, and Hexologic is no different. I did appreciate the aesthetic, which had a sort of storybook charm themed across the four worlds, but having been spoiled by the superb art direction of puzzle games like Puyo Puyo Tetris, and Tumblestone, this all seemed a little barebones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this barebones approach permeates nearly every aspect of the game, from the lack of options to the consistently easy difficulty. Perhaps the most egregious omission is the lack of a menu, something that left me very confused when I first booted up the game. After flashing the title, the game went right into a tutorial, and I thought I missed something, so I closed the game and reloaded it. Lo and behold, I experienced the same thing and came to the, ahem, puzzling realization that this game doesn’t have a menu. I can’t recall a single game I’ve ever played, mobile or otherwise, that didn’t have some type of menu. While objectively not a huge deal, it just shows the lack of care that went into making this port.
While this port could’ve been the definitive version of a fun puzzler, it opts instead to give us the exact same experience currently available on mobile devices. The issue with this is the fact that, when blown up on bigger screens, with more powerful hardware, its flaws become bigger and more apparent as well. The final sticking point for me is the price, which at the time of writing is $3 on the Nintendo eShop (same as on Steam). It is currently listed at about $1 on mobile app stores, and if I’m going to be paying a premium to play it on more powerful hardware, it’s not unreasonable to expect a little bit more than what is available on mobile. Overall, Hexologic is a fun game, with a charming look, but the lack of challenge and the barebones approach to this port leave little reason to return after you’ve completed it.