Huebrix [Free] is a frustrating game to talk about. I want to tell you all about its puzzles, which are good and clever and rarely aggravating. I want to warn you about its flaws, which are found in nearly every other part of the package. I want to say it's a great little game, one that could scratch your hypothetical Picross/nonogram itch almost perfectly. I want to say it's poorly designed in every way except the one that counts most. Buckle up, in other words. Things are about to get messy.

First, the good. Huebrix plays a lot like PathPix [$1.99], part of a series that's often brought up as a great way to enjoy nonogram-style play that's better suited to iOS. The games share a few important elements. There is a grid that needs filling, and numbers that tell you how to fill it. In Picross they're arranged around the edges of the grid, and you use them to decipher which squares in each row and column to remove and which to fill. In PathPix and Huebrix, the numbers are attached to colored squares that mark the starting points lines, and indicates just how many squares each color can fill. Huebrix moves the fomula forward by adding modifiers.

The early challenges require balancing the needs of each color. You might need 5 spaces for red, and 11 for blue. The trick is to make sure you drag your lines around to fill every loose edge and corner so there isn't a hole on one side of the grid and a dead end on the other. Easy, at least until you're dealing with a half-dozen colors.

The modifiers complicate matters. There are, loosely speaking, two types of modified squares, those that direct your lines around the grid and those that change the lines themselves. Some squares are marked with an "X"—that means one of your lines needs to end on that position. Others have arrows that indicate the directions you must pass through them. There are marks that need to match the color of the lines that pass over them, and tunnels that lets you cross from one edge of the board to the other.

These add a ton of potential complexity to each puzzle. It's challenging enough not to leave any abandoned squares normally; when you layer restriction after restriction to your movement, things can get much trickier. But even more complicated are the other modifiers, the ones that add to and subtract from the length of your lines. You need to juggle and discard each color in turn to establish which one gets to take the extra three squares or gets cut off by five. All told, the potential solutions increase dramatically, while the correct answers remain tightly controlled.

If these puzzles were in a better package, I'd recommend Huebrix wholeheartedly. Solving them is satisfying—they put your reason to the test more thoroughly than most of the competition. The problems with the rest of the package are hard to avoid, though, and they get in the way of the fun too often.

For example, you're rated on each puzzle depending on how quickly you complete it. That timer keeps counting when you reset the level or come back to it, so each mistake or momentary distraction costs you. But costs you what, exactly? If you get a bad rating, just restart and earn a better medal with the solution already in hand. Or not, since no one seems to be watching. Oh, and those medals? No matter which one you get, Huebrix is going to mock you. Earned a gold medal? "Impressive, for you." No medal awarded? A dismissive "Whatever." It's not a unique sort of aggressive, in-your-face humor, but the game isn't irreverent in any other way. This is a thoughtful puzzle game that rewards logic; the insults feel badly out of place.

These aren't the only poorly though-out elements. There's also the hint system. Whenever you provide hints in a puzzle game, you have to take care to give enough away without giving away too much. The hints in Huebrix give away a huge portion of a given puzzle—an entire color—a choice likely calculated to make up for the fact that you have to pay for them after the first ten. It is, at best, an awkward balance made worse by monetization.

The monetization is a problem across the board, really. You get over 100 puzzles for your initial purchase, a generous number in practice. The puzzles have a wide difficulty range and take a good length of time to work through. But let's say you want more. You can pay for extra levels, a fine choice if the value proposition wasn't completely broken. There are over a dozen level packs, and each one costs a dollar. In each, you'll find ten to thirty levels. In total, you'll pay nearly twenty dollars to triple the number of puzzles you began with for that initial dollar.

Not only is that completely unbalanced, it's poorly designed. Huebrix splits its levels into tiers of difficulty, but there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the sorting. Those ten "Insane" levels you just paid a buck for may not be considerably harder than some in the pre-Easy mode starter pack. If you're smart enough to work your way through all the included levels, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're smart enough not to throw your money away so pointlessly.

And then there's the elephant in the room: the look. If you ever want to step into a quagmire, get involved in a disagreement about inspiration versus copying versus coincidence. The argument boils down to this: Huebrix looks a lot like Puzzlejuice [$1.99]. Yellow Monkey Studios says it's a coincidence, one of Puzzlejuice's developers suggests otherwise. Even if we step away from the controversy, though, Huebrix doesn't pull the look off all that successfully. It lacks elegance, settling for a somewhat artless mix of elements that are great on their own.

So there it is. Huebrix has great puzzles, but the game that surrounds them needs serious work. It has the fundamentals—a good selection, lots of additional content, even a level editor—but each of those things could be better presented. I won't say you shouldn't pick it up, because there simply aren't many puzzles out there that do a great job in this particular niche. Huebrix moves its niche forward in interesting ways, and that's worth exploring. If it isn't a niche you care strongly about, though, you can probably find better ways to puzzle away the hours.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Honki

    And this is why you are my favourite iOS gaming site. This is an excellent review which nails all the flaws on the head.

  • Misguided

    A couple of things worth noting. In the forum thread, we have asked for an untimed mode, and the developer has said they are making it happen. They have also said they will add a way to purchase the additional levels as a group, but no word on what it will cost. I agree with the review on the current setup: the base game offers a lot of value whereas the IAP does not.

    As far as the end of level comments, this is supposed to tie in with the name of the game (hubris) and the "are you smart enough to play" approach they took with their app text & trailer. I'm not a fan of it either, but it wasn't random (though as stated in the review, there's nothing else in the app itself to support it).

    I actually like the art style. I don't usually go for this sort of look, but I think it works well with the style of puzzle.

  • ducksFANjason

    I'm really torn on this, but I REALLY don't want to support a crap IAP system. And I know myself... Once I get hooked into a good puzzle game, I'll feel compelled to keep playing.

  • rbates

    I like the detailed write up, but why only 3 stars for a game that has a great core experience? It sounds like if the hint system and extra level packs were left out it would have received a much better score. Why base it so much on this optional content that players can easily bypass?

  • Shailesh Prabhu

    To everyone who dislikes the current inApp setup, we are revising that to provide more for less. Expect an update soon, also expect an untimed "Zen Mode" and a Color Blind friendly mode coming soon!

  • Greatmax

    I agree, a great review of a good puzzle app.

  • witedahlia

    This was an excellent review, very informative. I'm going to go ahead and get the game because of it. I wasn't sure before, but knowing what its flaws are ahead of time (and that they probably won't effect me much) made the difference.

HUEBRIX: A Twisted Puzzle of Space, Time and Color Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 3