Tag Archives: Hexic

Gotta match ’em all in Nintendo’s free-to-play Pokémon Shuffle

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Like sand dunes eroding over time, Nintendo is slowing dipping its toes into the free-to-play market in an attempt to see what all the hubbub is about, as well as milk fans for money. Now, I never did download Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, which had a unique take on bartering for cheaper mini-games, but it sounded like, at the very least, a fresh take on giving players something free to play while enticing them to drop some dollar bills for a bit more to experience. I’ve also not given Steeldiver: Sub Wars a look, so I can’t speak for how that submarine-steered competitive multiplayer thing faired. Naturally, the first free-to-play plunge from Nintendo I’m interested in trying out is Pokémon-related.

Pokémon Shuffle is another take on the “match three” puzzle formula, but instead of lining up similar looking gems or flowers or pieces of underwear, you’ll be matching cutesy disembodied heads of all your favorite–and probably some of your non-favorite–pocket monsters. You use the stylus and touchscreen to make this happen, and the game, thanks to its vibrant, colorful look and simplistic presentation, moves at a rapid clip. Basically, you’re matching three or more heads to deal damage to whatever Pokémon you are fighting, and different types of Pokémon to do more damage by way of a weakness system. Once you beat the Pokémon, you get a chance to capture it, and the capture percentage is upped a bit by how many moves you have left by the end of the battle; of course, you could always pay to up that guarantee of a capture. Strangely, some common Pokémon have really low capture rates, which doesn’t exactly line up with the, um, fiction of games like Pokémon Y and Pokémon White 2.

The free-to-play gating begins immediately once you get past the tutorial bits. See, there are three types of currency to pay attention to: Hearts, Jewels, and Coins. The core currency is Jewels, which you can buy for $0.99 each, with a small discount for if you buy in bulk. You can then exchange Jewels for Hearts. Hearts let you play one level one time (win or lose), and you can have a maximum of five total, with one reappearing every 30 minutes. Coins are a sub-currency used to purchase one-use power-ups before a battle begins, and from what I can tell, the majority of the power-ups are way too expensive for what little effects they cause.

I think Pokémon Shuffle‘s biggest misstep is in its Hearts. Also known as the Energy system when it comes to these things. Levels generally take one to two minutes to complete, possibly a bit longer if you are really studying the board for key combos or up against a really tough encounter, like Mew, which is the random event Nintendo’s running for the next three weeks since launch. That means, especially early on, you can use up your five Hearts in five minutes and then end up having to wait two and a half hours to play five more times in a row. Hexic for Windows 8 phones, which I found pretty addicting, was similar to this, but you only lost a chance to play again if you lost a battle/level; if you won, you kept going, riding it like a pro. I once downloaded Candy Crush Saga, but only played it once or twice before deleting, meaning I can’t tell you how it compared to this–but all in all, Pokémon Shuffle seems a little too eager to immediately put the player in a standstill and ask for an investment.

I will never drop any real money into Pokémon Shuffle, but as something I’ll pick up and play once or twice a day for maybe ten minutes at most, it doesn’t offend me. Too much. I can happily ignore all its free-to-play tactics and begs, though I do wish Nintendo took a chance to thank its long-time fans and incorporate some kind of connection with the various other Pokémon games for the Nintendo 3DS. I mean, my copy of Pokémon Dream Radar is collecting digital dust, so it would’ve been nice to keep that train a-chugging. Or, heck, use those Play Coins to help purchase extra hearts or Great Balls.

Again, Pokémon Shuffle doesn’t really bother me too much because I’m not investing anything into it other than a small chunk of my day, but if I really want my match three fantastical animal heads fix, I should probably wait for Pokémon Battle Trozei, releasing next month on the eShop for $7.99. Think about how many Hearts that could buy you in Pokémon Shuffle. Here, I did the math for you–$7.99, due to the odd way they are priced, could get you 6 Jewels, which could then be turned into 30 Hearts. So, the choice is yours–$7.99 to play thirty times or play as much as you want. I know, this is a tougher choice than trying to name an Audino for the umpteenth time.

The geometric world of Hexic definitely needed my help

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Are you a cats or dogs kind of person? If you must know, I’m a big fan of cats. For proof, here’s my two furry critters: Pixie and Timmy. And I’m not just throwing this question out here for any ol’ reason, but I think you could potentially use that common question and apply it to videogames as well, such as so: are you a Call of Duty or Battlefield kind of fan? Crash Team Racing or LittleBigPlanet Karting? Or, to get right down to it, are you a Bejeweled or Hexic kind of puzzler?

For me, I never really played much Bejeweled save for a round or two on Facebook when I had a few minutes to kill and wanted to see who else on my friends list was doing the same. I’m a Hexic man through and through, and I’m fine with that. Heck, the game was designed by Alexey Pajitnov of, y’know, Tetris fame, so it’s got some serious cred behind its creation. Anyways, Hexic HD came pre-installed on my original Xbox 360–which is still operating since mid-2009–and I played it a lot. Almost like a friendless fiend. No, really. I would come home from work on my lunch-break to eat and instead shove food into my mouth as fast as possible while I dangled a controller on my lap and stared at a screen of tiles, analyzing the scenario and seeing which ones to turn next. Eventually, I moved away from Hexic HD as the remaining Achievements seemed nigh impossible to unlock, and they still do some five years later, but it remains a fun memory.

But Microsoft knows I’m still their unconditional, unwavering Hexic man, releasing a version for both Windows 8 and the Windows 8 phone for me to eat up. Naturally, I played the latter, and while it is far from perfect, it’s been a great little game to eat up ten to fifteen minutes every day as I progressed through all of its 100 levels. For those that don’t know how it plays, you are trying to rotate hexagonal tiles to create certain patterns and clear spaces on the board or create special tiles that have various effects. This time around, the mobile version sets different goals for each level, like hit X amount of points or destroy all of the dark tiles in X number of moves. It’s more goal-driven, which works in its favor for gaming on the go.

There’s also a bit of story, with a blue-faced tile encouraging you forward. It’s light and thin stuff, but it is nice to read some cutesy–if throwaway–dialogue between rounds and learn about how certain power-ups work.

Now for the negatives. Hoo boy.

Hexic is a free-to-play game that asks you, pretty frequently, to spend real money. Either on special boosters or extra lives. See, you get five lives–also know as five chances not to fail a level–and they refresh themselves over time. I think it’s maybe around 20 to 25 minutes for one new life to be gained. If you run out of lives, but want to keep playing and can’t wait around, well…the game has a store button for you. I’m not one to ever get involved in microtransactions, and let it be known that you can complete every level in the game without spending a real U.S. dollar; granted, I probably would’ve been finished with the game a month or so ago if I had, but there is nothing wrong with making something last. Patience is a plus.

The game also ends up crashing a lot, seemingly for no real reason. The first few times I chalked it up to how I was holding the phone and maybe I accidentally bumped the back arrow or something. Nope, not it. You’ll be doing well, making combos and gaining a high score, and suddenly you are kicked from the game back to your phone’s main screen. A straight dump. What’s even more frustrating is that when you log back in to play, the life you were just on is gone, and so not only did you mess up a good run, but you’re down one life. Knowing this also helped fuel my desire to never spend a single dime on extra BS because I had to now live and play in constant fear of crashes.

I haven’t uninstalled Hexic from my phone just yet, but I really think I might be done with my tile-turning time. For now. There’s maybe one or two more Achievements I could possibly go after, but the remainder seem to require some hard-earn money to get close to, and while I love Hexic, I don’t love it that much.

The Half-hour Hitbox: March 2014

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Officially, March is the month that sees an end to winter…so why am I still so cold? Fact: I’m literally typing this intro text in front of a tiny space heater. Well, let’s not start deep-diving into things like polar vortexes and the death of the planet, but I’m really looking forward to spring becoming spring. For one, it means I’ll be able to play more console videogames since I won’t immediately crawl under the heated blanket every night after work just to stay warm. Two, well…um, I don’t know. I guess it just ultimately means I’ll have more time to play all them vidyagamez I have in my backlog.

Actually, there’s not too many games for this edition of Half-hour Hitbox. I’ve mostly written about the big games occupying my time this month–like Tomb Raider, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, and Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures–and I’ve only dipped my toes into a few other games over the last thirty-one days. This is me attempting to remain focused and dedicated to the task at hand, of beating more games than starting new ones.

Enough babbling, on with the list…

Hitman: Absolution

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Remember all the trouble I had with Hitman: Blood Money? Of course you do. Well, thankfully, Hitman: Absolution plays much more smoothly than its older brother, but I’ve only gotten through the tutorial level so far. Again, there’s a lot of systems to play with here: you can be sneaky, you can be aggressive, you can be both, and you can be creative in all your approaches. I like that; I’ve always liked that. So long as thinking of an idea and implementing it via action buttons is, more of less, easy to do. That’s the ticket. The next stage up is the Chinatown one from all them demo trailers, and I’m eager to see what trouble I can get Agent 47 into next.

Dungeon Defenders

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Well, it finally happened. I played Dungeon Defenders. See, I’ve had a copy on both Steam and PlayStation 3 for a long, long time now. Just sitting there, waiting. Making puppy eyes now and then as I’d skip past it to play something else. And then, this month on the Xbox 360, Gold users get a free copy of the game, meaning I now have three versions of it across all my current platforms. Alas, the game never looked too appealing to me, both visually and from a gameplay perspective, so I never made it a priority, but I figured enough was enough. I needed to know for sure.

Unfortunately, my gut instincts were right–this isn’t a game for me. It’s boring solo, consisting of just you setting up turrets and defenses, clicking start, and running around like a madman to keep on top of every situation. You do this for several waves until you win, and then you move on to a new area that, from what I can tell, while aesthetically different, plays just like everything else. Maybe I’ll try to see if I can join someone’s online game, but if not, I’ll probably end up deleting Dungeon Defenders. FROM ALL MY GAMING DEVICES.

Celestial Mechanica

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In this collaboration from Roger Hicks and Paul Veer (animator of Super Crate Box), Earth was saved by celestial beings known as mechanians from complete destruction. However, since then, these beings haven’t been seen in like a hundred years. Naturally, in Celestial Mechanica, you play as one of these beings, exiled and now booted all the way down to Earth. Your mission is to get back…as well as try to sell some indie game soundtracks.

Basically, we have a Metroidvania action-platformer here, that starts pretty slow. I mean, you can’t even jump at the very beginning. Gameplay involves exploring and solving large environmental puzzles, with checkpoints for deaths almost non-existent, making for frustrating rooms when spikes and lasers are the main adversary. I played for a little bit and got a few powers, but eventually closed the window to do something else. Perhaps I’ll return to this Earth some other time in the future…

Polar Escape

A very short “escape the room” adventure game, wherein you’re stuck somewhere cold–maybe Alaska given I saw a poster for The Thing above the bed–trapped inside a four-walled room. The puzzles are all extremely logical, like using a hose on a tank of gasoline to extract the gas to power the generator, and the only hiccup I ran into was figuring out the secret code that unlocked one of the lockers. Once I got through that, the rest of the items get used one after the other in the most obvious of ways. Wasn’t really expecting much here, but Polar Escape didn’t impress me at all in the end. Also: could use some editing.

2048

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Over the last few days, I’ve read a decent amount about the popular puzzle game Threes. As well as 2048, a clone that is also experiencing popularity. Alas, given my Windows 8 phone, I can’t play Threes, but I was able to download 2048 and see what all the fuss is about. You basically slide tiles around to combine numbers in hopes of reaching a big score and creating a tile with the number 2,048 in it. I’ve not done it yet, but it’s surprisingly addictive and easy to get into. I can only image what Threes is like then, being the original idea. We’ll just call this another good killer of five to ten minutes, something to play while waiting for the teapot water to boil.

Hexic

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When I first got my Xbox 360, I only had two retail games for the longest while–Fable II and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I’d come home for lunch a lot and want to play, but didn’t have the allotted time for either of those two titles. Then I discovered that the Xbox 360 came with some arcade games pre-installed on it, with one of them being Hexic HD, a title-turning puzzle game that, despite its appearance, was deceptively difficult to master. And now you can play Hexic on your Windows 8 phone…for free. Uh oh. These last few months have shown us the truly nasty side of free-to-play games.

That said, I’m not even through the tutorial yet, so I have no idea if this game gets free-to-pay gross. It might, it might not at all. At this point, it’s just teaching me the basics that I already know while introducing special power-ups and moves to help clear the board faster. This reminds me greatly of what Tetris Blitz did, wherein you have Tetris, but also a handful of probably unnecessary and overpowering special items that, naturally, can be purchased with real money. I do like that there’s a tile with a single eye talking to you, calling you “a human”, and the presentation is quite nice, though some text can be a little small at times.

The Half-hour Hitbox is a new monthly feature for Grinding Down, covering a handful of videogames that I’ve only gotten to play for less than an hour so far. My hopes in doing this is to remind myself that I played a wee bit of these games at one time or another, and I should hop back into them, if I liked that first bite.