Hudson's entry into the DS puzzle library is here, but how does it stack up next to the competition?
Whether a product of the unique dual screens or the touch controls, the DS has become the undisputed king of portable puzzle gaming. Falling somewhere between the traditional outings like Zoo Keeper and the unique releases like Meteos, Honeycomb Beat tries to follow in the footsteps of Lumines by combining techno sensibilities with good old-fashioned brain-busting. The result is entertaining but sports some major flaws.
While Honeycomb Beat has two different modes to choose from, puzzle and evolution, both stem from the same core concept. A hexagonal version of "lights out", puzzles are solved by matching tiles in the on or off position. Tapping a tile "beats" it, flipping the polarity of that tile and the six surrounding it. In puzzle mode a limited number of "beats" are allowed, giving you the task of working out how to "turn off" every tile. This starts out simple but grows increasingly complex as special tiles are introduced that can flip an entire row or remain a set color for a certain number of beats.
A cool hexagonal board (there are lots of hexagons in this game, if you hadn't noticed) tracks your progress as each solved puzzle allows access to its neighbors. Evolution mode is slightly more traditional; rows of tiles rise from the bottom of the screen and you must clear horizontal lines so they don't reach the top. The same special tiles appear in higher levels of this mode as well, with the addition of a super-powerful "bee" tile that empties the screen and is a lifesaver when things start to speed up.
With such limited play options the enjoyment becomes dependent on depth, and this is where Honeycomb Beat's greatest shortcoming comes to light: longevity. Puzzle mode is quite extensive, but the joy wears off quickly as things get harder and you often find yourself stumped. Evolution mode should be the outlet for that frustration, but again falls short after a few hours of play. Essentially, it's too far on the wrong end of the infinite play spectrum. A game of Zoo Keeper or Tetris can last just about as long as you'd like, but evolution mode is almost impossible to play continuously, even cutting you off after a certain point because you've "beaten the level."
Somewhat compensating for the lack of depth, working through the two halves of the game unlocks a plethora of extras: alternate wallpapers, tile colors, visualizations, and background music all customizable from the main menu. Although this is a welcome feature considering the basic nature of the game, it's quite disappointing to discover that no actual gameplay changes or additions are buried among the extras.
Honeycomb Beat isn't incredible, occasionally feeling like a product that got rushed out the door, but at $20 it's a cheap and reasonably polished puzzle game that tries something new and mostly succeeds. Those of you who haven't played Meteos or Puzzle Quest should spend the extra cash and pick up one of those instead. The rest of you might find that Honeycomb Beat is just enough to keep you occupied on your morning bus ride.
What's Hot: Cost-effective puzzling; something new for people who've already played everything else
What's Not: Somewhat basic design; better games out there if you're willing to spend a bit more; no multiplayer