While Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved got most of the Xbox 360’s Live Arcade buzz during launch, I was actually more enamored with Hexic HD, a puzzle game that was decidedly less twitchy and much more strategic. With Hexic 2, I was expecting more of the same, which in my little corner of the world would’ve been just fine. But this time around, Hexic offers a multiplayer component that’s far more combative than I would’ve expected, as well as a few graphical “upgrades” that detract somewhat from its predecessor’s clean look.
The core of the Hexic 2 is similar to Hexic HD, with the Marathon, Timed and Survival modes each remaining largely intact. In fact, the only real differences are that it’s surprisingly simple to unlock the jewels that are locked between rounds of Survival, and the addition of a new Emerald piece that flip-flops two jewels on opposite sides of a cluster (a poor man’s star, if you will). It’s not until you get to the game’s new Battle mode, in fact, that you really start to see the gameplay change — and dramatically.
In the two-player Battle mode, which is playable either on a single console or via Xbox Live, players form clusters of like-colored jewels on opposite ends of the screen, much like the setup in “Puzzle Kombat” in Mortal Kombat Deception. The gameplay is largely what you’d expect from Hexic, but with each cluster of blocks you create, you build up a red, yellow, blue or green energy well at the top of the screen, each of which corresponds to the cluster you just formed. The more green clusters you form, the more your green well fills, up to a maximum of three “levels.”
As you build these wells and form clusters, a series of icons at the center of the screen cycles through showing one of four color-coded attacks: Bomb Attack (red), Push (green), Lock (yellow) and Clear (blue). By pressing the Y button, players can unleash the attack that’s shown at the top of the screen, provided they have at least one “level” full in the like-colored energy well. Bomb Attack drops a timed bomb on the opponent’s board, which the recipient can “toss back” simply by creating a cluster with it. Push pushes the screen’s central dividing line closer to the opponent’s side of the screen, thus shrinking his or her field of play. Lock locks a certain number of jewels on the opponent’s board, while Clear clears all the locked jewels and flat-out removes others.
The strength of each attack is determined by the amount of energy built-up in the player’s energy well. However, this is where things get interesting, because there’s a secondary energy meter along the outside edge of the screen, and if players decide not to use any of their special attacks, they might just build up that energy bar faster and thus win the match by maxing it out. This provides a clever balancing act for Hexic 2, because as frantic as the special attacks can seem, there’s always that feeling of “do I use this attack, or do I keep building that energy bar and try to max it out first?”
As interesting as it sounds, Battle Mode definitely takes a few play-throughs before it feels anywhere near comfortable, and even then, it doesn’t quite have the same polished feel as the other three modes. In addition, although the developer probably felt that revising the graphics would add a bit of graphical polish and flair, the somewhat-muted color palette can actually make it hard to identify which pieces will be rotating. Also, the occasional waving of the gameplay screen (think of a wave rolling underneath the board) can actually be more of a nuisance than anything else. Just because a developer can add some graphical bells and whistles doesn’t mean he or she should.
Still, while the Battle Mode in Hexic 2 might not have the same pick-up-and-play quality as the rest of the game or its predecessor, the multiplayer addition is nice, and we’ve got to give credit to the developer for finding a way to make the game competitive in a way other than simply comparing scores. However, since the rest of the game is largely intact, the addition of multiplayer doesn’t really seem to justify a second purchase of what really amounts to the same game with a new mode, especially considering that the graphics in Hexic HD were a bit easier on the eyes.
- Overall: 7.2
- Multiplayer is a nice addition, but it definitely takes some getting used to, and the updated graphics don’t really do much for me other than give me a headache while trying to create clusters.
— Jonas Allen