I absolutely hate Minesweeper. That tiny piece of fluff-ware that seems to be bundled in so many operating systems simply irks me to no end. I feel this way because, while there is some strategy involved, most of the gameplay boils down to blind luck. And when chance takes preference instead of direct influence over the outcome, I simply lose interest. With this bitter taste in my mouth, I was cautious when I approached Hexcells, whose description bears more than a passing resemblance to the infamous ‘sweeper. Thankfully, my prejudices weren’t realized and I found it to be a rather delightful puzzle experience.
The game board consists of arrangements of orange hex-shaped cells in different configurations. Players have to decide if a particular cell is part of a blue pattern or not and mark it accordingly. It’s simplicity itself, though it does take a bit of logical deduction, seeing as many of the hexes serve as indicators to the positions of nearby pattern cells. Numbers inform players as to how many pattern cells are adjacent to a particular hex, and studying the layout will allow players to uncover the correct cells without resorting to guessing or trial-and-error.
It’s at this point that the game feels less like Minesweeper and more like the sublime Picross. Indeed, before long, new numerical indicators appear, such as figures encased in brackets and hyphens, or figures appearing outside of hexes entirely. Each of these relays information about the hidden pattern in a different, more complex way, and soon enough you’ll really need to sit down and process the data thoroughly before attempting to uncover the increasingly elaborate patterns.
The game keeps track of mistakes, though the number allowed is infinite and you won’t “die” for it. However, in order to unlock further levels, players need to earn a certain amount of points, and making too many mistakes ensures that you receive no reward for your efforts. Pay attention, think things through, don’t click all willy-nilly and you’ll be just fine. I can guarantee you’ll walk away feeling a little bit smarter and chuffed at your skills of deduction.
What really sets Hexcells apart is the presentation. It’s extremely clean and simple and has a wonderfully zen-like quality, from the use of flat colours to the minimalistic ambient music. It’s one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played and it feels almost impossible to get frustrated.
If you play the game, get your head around its mechanics and become something of an expert, you can have a stab at its standalone expansion, Hexcells Plus. It’s more of the same, but considerably more difficult as it assumes you’ve played the original and mastered all of its nuances. It’s basically the hardcore version of Hexcells and the perfect gift for fans of the original.
Both Hexcells and Hexcells Plus are available on Steam and both retail for $2.99 at the time of this writing. You can opt for one or the other or snatch them both in a pack for $4.99. It’s pure hex-rated fun. [Ha! – Ed.]