One of my favorite puzzle series of all time is Picross, which debuted on the original Game Boy and has remained mostly portable throughout its life. One of the cool things about the Nintendo Switch is that it’s a hybrid system, meaning traditional console games can now be played on the go and titles that have been stuck on the small portable screens of the past can now be played at home on the big TV screens of today. With the right graphical style and simple UI, games like Hexologic that were once associated primarily with handhelds get to find a whole new console gaming audience.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what the heck Hexologic is. It sort of looks like the classic board game Tri-Onimos, but the rules here are different, and easy enough to understand. If you’ve ever played Sudoku you’ll have some idea of what’s going on here, although this game does differ in execution. It’s never easy trying to explain exactly how to play a puzzle game in writing, but after multiple Picross game reviews that never stops me from trying!
Hexologic will lay down some blank hexagons in various patterns. It’s your job to assign a number to each spot by placing 1, 2, or 3 dots in each one. At the edges of certain rows and columns will be a number inside an arrow. This number signifies what that row or column’s individual hexagons must add up to and the arrow is showing you the direction of the row or column. So, for example, let’s say you have a row that only has 2 blank hexagons and a number 5 on the end. That means the two pieces have to add up to 5, and since you can only use a 1, 2, or a 3 we know that one of the spots will have to be a 2 and the other has to be a 3 in order to add up to 5.
Now, just like in Picross and Sudoku, what happens is that as you begin filling in some tiles from figuring out other areas of the puzzle, a cascading effect will happen where you’ll be able to solve parts that were previously impossible to know. That’s because as you solve other rows and columns, the amount of choices available to fill in the remaining blanks narrows and pretty soon there’s only one acceptable answer. When you really get rolling the game becomes so much fun and I love it when games sort of put me into “the zone” where I’m almost in a Zen-like state. In many ways this title is relaxing to play because you can take all the time you want and it’s gratifying to solve the puzzles. Many times the most challenging aspect is figuring out where to start and to get the first few pieces solved. Usually things fall into place after that, but some of the game’s later puzzles can be more devious and if you’ve made an error early on in the puzzle, it can create havoc at the very end when you realize the puzzle can’t be solved. Backtracking can help, but sometimes it’s easiest just to wipe the board and start from scratch.
Like most games of this type, the puzzles start off easy and continue to get more difficult. What I liked a lot here is that the game introduces new elements every 10 levels or so. For example, as you get a bit into the game the puzzles will change so that there are several number hexagons laid down with all of the blank ones. This makes it more challenging in some cases, especially when they are bigger numbers, like a 6 or something that can result in much bigger row or column totals. Making things even more difficult to wrap your brain around are sets of special colored titles that when you place a number on it, all of the same colored tiles automatically are changed to that number as well. So, not only do you have to think about the row you’re currently dealing with, but also all of the other rows where these colored tiles are placed. It can get a bit brain bending, but it never became downright frustrating.
Controlling Hexologic is a breeze with the Joy-Con controllers. You move the cursor around the hexagons with the left analog stick (you can use the d-pad, but it’s way less accurate). I love that the dots you can place (1, 2, and 3) are mapped to the Y, X, and A buttons respectively for easy and fast placement. Alternatively, if you’re playing in handheld mode you can use the touchscreen and all you have to do is tap the hexagon you want to put a dot on. Pressing it once is a one, again is a two, and (you guessed it) a third time is a three. Tapping again will reset it back to blank. I played mostly on the TV so I became really accustomed to the Joy-Con controls, but if I were playing handheld I think the touchscreen is the way to go as its so intuitive.
Typically puzzle games like this one don’t rely on flashy graphics or music to keep players coming back for more. That being said, I have to give the developers credit for the presentation here as it’s very slick and although it looks rather simple, the clean UI and the blurred out animated backgrounds are quite pleasant. I especially really enjoyed the soundtrack, which is very ambient with a slow beat and really managed to dig into my subconscious. That’s because the game utilizes pretty much the same musical notes over and over again with slight variation and changes as you progress. Like any good puzzle game, you have the option to silence the music if you so choose – but in this case I left it on as I rather enjoyed it.
I really fell in love with Hexologic and it was an incredibly fun experience on the Switch. The only issue is that it’s too short, but perhaps that’s to be expected given its $2.99 price tag. There are 60 base levels for you to solve, as well as 15 bonus puzzles, but even so I probably only needed about 3 hours to beat the game. That’s not bad for the price, but it left me wanting more, so hopefully the game is successful enough that a sequel or an add-on will be made. If you’re the puzzler type then you should definitely download this game right now! It’s definitely worth the price of admission.
Hexologic was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.