I’ll level with you: this is going to be a really short review because, as much as I do believe that video games are a creative work and deserve the full respect of my time and effort in a review situation (whether they’re great or otherwise), sometimes a game really is that small and simple that there’s not much to say about it. HIX: Puzzle Islands is a charming little thing, and really quite good at doing what it wants to do. It’s just that it is very much limited by that and that’s all it offers.
HIX is a puzzle game about unjumbling a tangle of roads. Each level offers you a board split up into hexagons. On one (or, in later levels, two or more) hexagons there are houses, windmills, or other “starting” points. Scattered around the map on other hexagons are little sections of road (or river, depending on the “home” object that it’s connected to). Your job is to move the pieces of the board around so that the roads connect the starting point to the endpoint. There’s only one right solution for each puzzle, but it’s a no-stress, chill kind of puzzler and you can take your time to figure your way towards the solution.
You’ve probably played this kind of game before – puzzle games about connecting up pathways are not exactly uncommon – but it’s a timeless kind of puzzle gameplay for a reason, and there is something very relaxing about watching a tangle of road bits slowly click together to form unbroken lines. As the levels become more complex and additional roads and pathways are introduced, watching everything click together is satisfying, and with dozens and dozens of puzzles, there’s more than enough in here to satisfy people in the mood for a little zen.
HIX was originally a mobile game, and that does show. The narrative is a load of nonsense (two God-brothers are fighting and the good one wants to undo all the mess the bad one is creating), and since Puzzle Islands isn’t a game that needs a narrative, I don’t see what this adds to it, thin as it is. The aesthetics are very “mobile vibrant” and even if you didn’t know where this came from before you start playing, you certainly would realise it after a level or two. That’s not a criticism inherently, since mobile games are designed to be pleasant and inoffensive to draw the largest possible audience, and HIX is both pleasant and inoffensive, but you’re not going to be rushing out to buy merchandise featuring this art, either.
I guess the big question here is who Puzzle Islands is for. There are plenty of excellent puzzlers on the console already, and in fairness, this isn’t in that top tier with the likes of Box Boy, Captain Toad or Puyo Puyo Tetris. It’s just a little too plain to stand out against puzzlers that also have a creative thrust. However, there are times where you just want to kick back with a good puzzle, and HIX excels there, in the same way that a good puzzle book can. Grab yourself a coffee and croissant on a lazy Sunday morning, and plow through a few of these. It’s a great way to spend some lazy downtime. The difficulty in HIX is beautifully tuned, and there are unlimited hints to prevent you from getting stuck if you need them. It’s the lovely low-pressure experience from a world filled with too many pressures.
The developers have done everything they can with HIX, and what they’ve done is fine. This is a perfectly adequate, competent, enjoyable puzzler that, like the best of the genre, takes a simple concept and gets you thinking as you play. Not thinking too hard, since this is meant to be relaxing and calming, but thinking just enough to feel smart at figuring out the solutions. The execution is a little bland and 101, though, and that means, just like the $2 puzzle book, you’re not going to remember having ever played it a year from now. As to whether that’s worth the price of admission when there are so many other high-quality games being released on the Switch… well, that one depends on how much you enjoy time-wasting puzzle books, really.
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