Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Carbonated Games
Release Date: August 15, 2007
Sequels: Necessary or not, games always seem to have them. Sometimes, a sequel is a good thing. By itself, Metal Gear Solid has too many plot holes, thus the fan's rabid desire for not one, but three sequels. Sometimes, however, it isn't. Tetris hasn't majorly changed from release to release, except for porting to a specific console and one or two contrivances per game. Unfortunately, Hexic follows the tradition of all too many puzzle games by fitting squarely into the second category. With Hexic 2, the developers have made an admirable effort to add new features. Whether it works or not is an open question.
The basic premise of Hexic, for those who haven't played it, is similar to Bejeweled or Puzzle Quest. Hexagonal tiles fill a large field from top to bottom, and you spin sets of three tiles, hoping to form triangular groupings of three or more tiles in the process. When a grouping disappears, new tiles drop in from the top to fill it. Lather, rinse, and repeat. The differences from Bejeweled, besides the spinning mechanic and group-based piece removal, come in the addition of new tile pieces as gameplay continues. Bomb tiles regularly drop onto the field and must be removed from the field by creating a matching-color triangle before they explode, while other new tiles are generated by lining up special clusters on the field. These, in turn, can be combined to create other special tiles. With enough skill, this ultimately leads to Black Pearls, which, if put into a cluster, star (six of them forming a circle around an unrelated tile), or line (five in a row), gives you victory, and with it, sweet Xbox Live Achievement points. There are easy achievements and difficult achievements, and actually winning at either version of Hexic is very hard indeed, in spite of the game itself being so simple.
At least in the standard form of play, this is really all there is to it. Fortunately, Hexic HD added a Timed mode and a Survival mode (no bombs or special tiles, and the goal is to eliminate as many tiles as possible on a board, after which the next board flows in, and the next, etc.). Both of these carry over to Hexic 2, although Hexic 2 adds one more mode on top, which is possibly the strangest of all.
Most puzzle games like this are relaxing by design and aren't suited to a direct Battle mode. Carbonated Games, however, found a way to make it work. Battle mode takes one wide arena and cuts it in the middle (think Lumines). Two players then race to a defined score, using attacks (built up by eliminating tiles) to try and slow the other's efforts. This isn't the typical gameplay mechanic for puzzle versus modes, but as you adjust, it proves a highly refreshing experience, with battles proving to be just as manic as in more standard puzzle games. The center line consists of shared tiles, which often results in players racing to take full advantage of these tiles to stop their opponent from doing the same. The Battle mode is purely one-on-one, with local, Xbox Live, and computer opponents available.
Hexic 2 also adds, as noted above, two new pieces to the Marathon and Timed modes. Stars are still generated when you form a flower (circle of one color around one piece of another). In addition, however, the new Emerald pieces let you swap two pieces on either side of it, while Rubies let you swap two pairs of two adjacent pieces. On top of this, the game-winning Black Pearls now have a function, serving as a sort of half-star. Furthermore, all of these pieces can now be detonated, removing them from play along with several adjacent pieces. In case that wasn't enough, it is now possible for you to move your cursor and spin pieces even as other pieces are falling from a previous combo.
However, this comes at an increased length cost, as Rubies must now be lined up or clustered to form Black Pearls; since they form from Stars, this adds a significant step, requiring the completion of many, many more Stars than before (by my count, a minimum of 125, up from just 18), making it even less likely than before that a player will see a game of Hexic through to completion. Further, the timer in Timed mode no longer stops as pieces fall, making use of the new spin timing almost mandatory and making the pace of that mode positively manic by comparison.
All of this comes on top of a graphical and audio refresh, though this probably should be of surprise to no one. Hexic HD was an entirely plain 2-D affair, with a minimum of effects. Hexic 2 perhaps overcompensates this; pieces are 3-D now, come in a wider variety of color schemes and shapes, and have a much wider variety of neat-looking effects — while maintaining the original's showcase-quality lack of slowdown. It's hard to look back with all the gameplay detail added, but things really are quite impressive-looking now. The game's 720p output, unfortunately, remains questionably valuable, since the boards are clearly designed for standard TVs. The sound remains mostly unchanged in terms of sound effects, but the music is significantly enhanced, not by fiat changing the moody, almost-entirely synthesized soundtrack of the previous game, but by adding more, more, and still more to it. It keeps the mood while avoiding the repetition that could arise from especially long games of the first iteration.
So, you're asking, is this sequel worth it? The changes are plentiful, but there's nothing ludicrously revolutionary here. The gameplay still stands in its same, Bejeweled-derivative self, and just a few doors down on Xbox Live Arcade is Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, an unequivocally exceptional competitor in the Bejeweled derivatives subgenre. Ultimately, the only thing I can say is that it is good, solid game, but whether or not it will come across as worthwhile when just about everyone in the target audience already has its prequel, the question is quite simply, "Have you beaten Hexic HD?" If the answer is "yes", you know the game well and would probably enjoy it quite a bit; for this audience, Hexic 2 would be well worth the $10 asking price. However, those who didn't get into the prequel will not likely enjoy the new competitive elements, and for that audience, the other elements just aren't enough of a change to declare Hexic 2 truly "new."