NDS Review - 'Honeycomb Beat'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on May 14, 2007 @ 4:05 a.m. PDT

Combining hypnotic music with brain teasing challenges that everyone can enjoy, Honeycomb Beat features intuitive touch screen puzzle action across three modes of play that lets gamers try to clear hexagonal Honeycombs from the game board.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Hudson
Release Date: April 2, 2007

Poor concepts, worse post-concept UI design, and generally fatal basic flaws have plagued several of Hudson's recent releases (Wii re-releases are exempt from this statement). Unfortunately, Honeycomb Beat only shifts from this pattern in one of the three areas, with an okay concept plagued by a UI that doesn't seem to know where it wishes to be, and generally poor design quality.

In short, Honeycomb Beat is a cash-in on the "music puzzle" craze (see also: Meteos and Lumines). The issue is that, like most non-Q Entertainment efforts, the puzzle does not integrate the music. Instead, the top screen becomes solely dedicated to visualizations that aren't even matched to the song and do not show up on the play screen at any time whatsoever. So scratch "music" from the genre.

The gameplay itself is a mild twist on standard falling blocks — just not a particularly impressive one. Hexagonal pieces come up from the bottom in two colors. Tap a piece to change that piece, and all pieces touching it, into a different color. Get all pieces in a row to match their color to remove that row, and score points. This causes pieces to fall straight down, leaving disconnected rows that cannot manipulate each other. Alternatively, if playing in Puzzle mode, make all pieces white to progress to another puzzle.

This does not sound too bad, and in reality, it isn't. The problem is that it's only marginally more intellectually stimulating than Trioncube, even with the addition of tiles of varied sorts. Most of the time, the game is either pathetically easy, or head-bangingly frustrating as you end up with numerous isolated rows which cannot influence one another, leaving you unable to clear any of them as the game steadily scrolls toward your doom. Once this happens, or you clear the stage, you'll be rated on your intelligence, as compared to various samples of life that I'm pretty sure are not intelligent by any means whatsoever. If mitochondria are smart enough to play this game, I've got a serious personality disorder coming on.

Honeycomb Beat's scoring system also seems to be rather arbitrary in nature, multiplying scores based on how many times you have cleared rows with the same color in sequence. The issue with this is that it is possible to affect rows that haven't even shown up on screen if you're playing with the pieces toward the bottom of the screen. The rewards for clearing multiple rows at once, while significant, pale in comparison to matching the color. Even as the game encourages mastering of multiple-row clears, you will rarely find yourself seriously wanting to perform them compared to making sure you never change colors, since that's all you'll need to get perfectly high scores. It's not like you'll get anything for it, though, since unlocks are based on clearing Evolution Mode's levels, or advancing through Puzzle Mode.

The music may not affect the gameplay, but how does it sound? The 10 original tracks of Honeycomb Beat are only barely tolerable, making the listener long for the pulse-pounding sounds of Lumines or distinctive themes of Meteos more than appreciate what's there. Unlike Lumines, there is no progression from song to song, so if you want to "enjoy" a different track, you have to go to the Configuration screen to change it. From here, you can also choose which visualization and touch-screen background to use, since you can't change it once play has started. The fact that these controls can't be changed immediately before starting, like even Tetris DS partially does, is an indication of lazy design and lazier implementation.

The graphics are perfectly bland and functional, as they usually should be with the puzzle part of a puzzle game. Unfortunately, with no activity anywhere else on the touch-screen to derive interest, the only place you're going to see anything resembling decent effects is when you look up at the top screen. The Nintendo DS has two screens for a reason, and presumably it was not so that games can turn the top screen into a fancy version of the visualizations that are shown by Windows Media Player. (Then again, if Hudson sold the admittedly quite beautiful visualizations as an add-on for Windows Media Player, they could probably make a killing.) The end result ends up uncomfortably straddling the line between a hardcore puzzle game, where nothing or very little distracts from the dropping of pieces, and a casual puzzle game where plenty of graphical whiz-bang keeps things interesting at the cost of distracting you from the action.

The graphical style, when combined with the sound's similarly implacable nature between casual and hardcore styles, the silly take on brain games with the Evolution mode, and pathetic difficulty curve in Puzzle mode, leaves Honeycomb Beat stuck in-between it all. Not centered on any one style, the game ends up feeling rushed and poor in quality when compared to similar titles on the market. Admittedly, if the central gameplay held up, this could be forgiven, but even Gunpey feels more accessible than this game in its best moments. Even Tetris DS, with the infamously anti-hardcore SRS mechanics, feels more conducive to hardcore puzzle play, and Trioncube is significantly more fun in its simplicity.

In short, Honeycomb Beat doesn't work out. It would have been perfectly fine as a web game played with a mouse on some online game portal, but as a $30 portable game played on a system with no shortage of top-quality puzzle games, Honeycomb Beat isn't a contender. It doesn't simply seek one niche and try to stick with it; it tries to tap all of them at once and looks all the sillier for it.

Score: 4.3/10

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