The hardest thing about a puzzle game should be the puzzles themselves. They should require thinking and logic, but ultimately be designed to be cracked. Hexologic has those puzzles, but they aren’t the hardest part about the game. No, that belongs to the menu UI; even after completing all the puzzles in the game, this is one test I still can’t get my head around.
At its’ most basic, Hexologic is a maths puzzle game. Players are required to assign numbers to hexagons to match the required total amount at the end of the line of hexagons. There are over 100 levels in total with some hidden away and only becoming available after completing their requisite block of 15 levels. Hexologic does a good job introducing new mechanics to the levels and showing the player how they work in an easier puzzle, before quickly ramping up the difficulty. Some hexagons have numbers you can’t adjust and must work around, some are the sum of other hexagons and some must be higher or lower than adjacent ones. You are only ever inputting the numbers one, two or three, but you would be surprised just how much variety there can be in doing so.
Choosing which level to attempt next, or even knowing which ones you have completed is a completely different ball game. Hexologic goes minimalistic for its’ menu, but rather than being crisp and clean it is instead confusing and infuriating.
Firstly, the level select is a long list up the screen, almost like Jack climbing his beanstalk. It is meant to convey a journey starting from underwater and ending up traversing space, but it is painful to scroll up and down. You can use the back buttons to skip up and down the list in larger chunks – the directional buttons sometimes inadvertently also send you back to the beginning of the list – but depending on whether you are in the main list, or off on the secret levels will vary the results of your navigation. If each specific areas’ list of levels were all on the one screen, it would make navigating so much easier.
In the top corners of the menu are two icons: one featuring a heart, the other a green animal face. After experimenting with the animal face, I deduced that this is the difficulty select. Green animal face equals easy; red animal face equals hard. This is at no point communicated to you though. This isn’t some hardcore action-RPG where the lack of information only adds to the difficulty, this is me selecting the difficulty for the puzzles. It absolutely should be communicated better.
The actual difference between ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ is that on easy mode, if the numbers in a line of hexagons meet the required target, the line will turn green. On ‘hard’ mode, they do not change colour. I didn’t notice any other differences. There could be, but again, I haven’t been informed.
Then we get to the heart in the top left corner, and quite frankly this is the most bizarre design feature of the lot. Pressing X when you have a level highlighted will add a heart next to it. But what is this for? Is it to show which levels you like and which you don’t if you were to return? I never figured it out throughout my entire time with Hexologic.
What I did use it for though was to indicate which levels I had completed, because Hexologic does not do this for you. Complete a level, and it offers no confirmation on the menu that it has been beaten. This makes it very difficult to keep track of; not so much the main levels as you can scroll to the top for the last level you completed, but for those secret levels it is impossible to check which ones have been bested.
Whether or not this is the intention of this heart, I do not know. But manually having to highlight which levels I have completed is something I have never come across before, which makes me think it has some other purpose that I never utilised.
In the levels themselves, a sub-menu can be brought up using the RB button, where you can add in placeholders for the number you think should fit in that hexagon. I only discovered this by fiddling around with the controls – again it is never brought to your attention by the game – and even then, it doesn’t work all the time. Some levels it does, some it simply does not.
If you can fathom out which levels you have completed, and which are outstanding, Hexologic on Xbox One comes with 11 achievements to unlock. Many are for completing the three special levels that accompany each section, and a couple are for taking down all levels on hard mode. Providing you keep track of what you have and haven’t completed, this should not be a difficult completion.
On one hand, Hexologic is a gentle and calming puzzle game, and is a great way to unwind on an evening. But then on the other, the menu design, layout and general lack of direction are a complete paradox to the game and will cause more frustration than any of the puzzles will. As such, it is difficult to recommend it as it is.