Review: Hexcells Plus

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I always like to see how a sequel tries to build on its predecessor. Sometimes it takes the concept in new directions, sometimes it provides more of the same, and sometimes it shores up the weak points in the original. Hexcells Plus takes a different tack, one not often seen in the modern era. It’s more of the same great logic puzzles, but significantly harder. Not only does it add complicated new mechanics to contend with, the core puzzle design is far more insidious about obfuscating the logic links to progress. The result is a game only for masters of the first, the Lost Levels to Hexcells’ Super Mario Bros.

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Just as with the first game, you’re playing hexagonal minesweeper. Right-click clears a hex, revealing a count of how many bordering hexes must be marked with left click. Some numbers have special symbols like brackets or dashes to represent specific hex patterns. Those numbers can also appear at the tops of columns, telling how many marked hexes lie below. Using this data, you must work out the locations of all the marked hexes and clear all the unmarked ones, preferably without fouling up too many times. You’ve got thirty puzzles to contend with, as well as some new mechanics we’ll talk about in a moment.

The most noticeable element of Hexcells Plus for veterans is the speed with which it ramps up. In the original, each world of puzzles opened with a simple tutorial challenge to acclimate you to mechanics as they came up. In rather striking contrast, this one gives you two or three easy puzzles up front as a refresher and then kicks your feet out from under you. There’s a palpable difference in the puzzle design here, still intensely clever but perhaps too clever now by a hair in how it expects you to string together connections. The puzzles of the previous product had a flow to them that wasn’t too hard to keep up with. Here though, you’ll find yourself staring at seemingly impossible arrangements for five or ten minutes before spying the one clue that’s your ticket to progress.

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I can’t stress enough how much harder Hexcells Plus is over Hexcells, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If your favorite puzzles from the first game were ones near the end, this one picks up right from there and runs with it. You’ll also have a few new gimmicks to manage, specifically designed to make it that much harder to see key layouts to proceed. Some hexes now clear with just a question mark instead of a number, refusing to give you any aid on what might be around. There are also blue hexes with numbers that tell you how many hexes in a 2-hex radius need to be marked. Even with a helpful guide overlay and similar quality-of-life controls as the column numbers, this one proved difficult to keep up with in light of everything else on the board.

It might seem like I’m beating this one up, but I assure you I am not. Hexcells Plus is another fine puzzle game in the vein of the first, just not one with quite as wide appeal. The challenge is greater here, which pulled the puzzling back from absolutely compelling to somewhat exhausting. Everything else about the game is essentially the same, so you just need to be on your toes if you want to dig into this one. This is not a game for people who want more Hexcells, this is a game for people who want a greater challenge, and for them it’s sure to please.

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