Version tested: GameBoy Advance
Released in July and exclusive to Japan, the 'bit Generations' Game Boy Advance games are simple game concepts offered at budget prices. They create a feeling of great refreshment in the audience, unlike these repetitive bit-G review intros.
Dialhex. Puzzler. Dialhex. Puzzler. Dial... x. Puzzler. Aha! Dialhex for puzzler!
"An ex-polygon decides to murder a hexagon for its twinkly sound effects and because it had an affair with Blockbusters. He blackmails an old games console to rotate him into position, but when things go wrong he uses the B button to turn events to his advantage."
Press A to roll Hitchcock in his grave.
One significant drawback to writing about these bit Generations games is that their simplicity and elegance means it's a bit difficult to do review intros.
Still, there are lots of benefits. For a start, they're simple and elegant. In Dialhex's case, they're also a bit brilliant.
This one is a puzzle game where triangles fall into a hexagonal play area oriented with its points at the top and bottom of the screen. You can rotate six triangles at a time using a little hexagonal cursor that you move about with the d-pad, and the idea is to create complete hexagons of one colour, which then disappear. If the screen fills up completely with triangles, it's game over.
There are of course other things to consider. For example, the decision to use a hexagonal play area means that the traditionally flat line at the foot of the puzzle-game screen actually dips in the centre - with the effect that any triangles landing on one of the slopes slide down toward the centre point until they meet an obstruction. This can be a bit annoying if you're working near the top of the pile, and errant triangles invade your space; fortunately, nothing can break into your little hexagon of selection, and this also means that you can carry individual triangles through blank space above the pile, or even sprinkle triangles into various places.
Not that you'll do that very much - I just enjoyed playing around with it.
The actual core business of creating lustrous hexagons is initially quite tricky. You start off by slotting things together and generally manage about five pieces, before struggling to get the sixth one in without removing one of the other vital ones. The trick, of course, is to match your formative rotations so that you're creating much handier things like diamonds. Another good thing to practice is quickly rotating out a good piece to match it to another good piece nearby, and then sliding the result in without having to think too hard about it. The pattern of learning's comparable to something like Lumines, and anybody who enjoyed going through phases of understanding with that - grasping how blocks slid down the side of other blocks without creating unhelpfully patterned squares of mixed colour - will draw the same kind of pleasure from Dialhex as they become more proficient.
In Solo mode - the one you'll start off with - the idea is more pointed than indiscriminate hexacide. Little segmented hexagon icons of a particular colour appear outside the main play-space, and you're supposed to concentrate on that colour until you've done it six times. Other colours are introduced as you work through the colours proposed, and once you've done four complete sets of six you unlock Endless mode, while completing eight colours finishes Solo mode.
Dialhex resists the urge to spoil things with lots of power-ups. You can hold A and B together to accelerate the rate triangles fall from the top of the screen, which doesn't really count, so the only real ones are the triangles that flash white or black. Involve a white-flasher in a disappearing act and all the other triangles of the same colour on the screen will disappear, which, if you're fortunate, will cause some of the others nestled around them to cascade into complete hexagons of their own and disappear. Black-flashers, meanwhile, drill a hole through the bottom of the play area directly beneath them, through which triangles tumble out and into the abyss, which is helpful for clearing some room.
Another helping hand comes from the sound effects. With quite a lot of concentration necessary to quickly manoeuvre your way through the stacks, and a mostly autumnal palette that can make it difficult to see at a glance when a useful triangle has fallen in on top, the use of distinctive little tingling pangs for each colour is very handy. It's hard not to like the FX in general, actually - the rotation sound is like a little shouting badger. Probably.
Before long, mind you, you're no longer interested in Solo mode, and instead you head for Endless whenever you fire up the cart. It has a Tetris-like bottomless feel to it, where you can keep pushing and removing more hexagons the more advanced and fluent your approach becomes.
On top of that, there's also a two-player versus mode, although unfortunately you need two copies of the game to try that out, and I only have one.
There is, I would say, good reason to bemoan the lack of other things to do. A game where you battle against an AI player, maybe or a time trial mode. If I were doing that annoying thing where the reviewer proposes features and then complains about their absence, those would be the things that immediately sprang to mind. (Which probably explains why I'm not a game designer - not exactly inspiring stuff, is it?)
But even though it's a slim game by the standards of something like Meteos, Lumines, which has depth and variation in its main endless mode that Dialhex doesn't countenance, it's still a game that does lots for the small pile of coins it costs to own. When you pick it up, it's richly absorbing. You won't necessarily want to "redial" immediately when you succumb to the mounting triangles, but breaks in play are seldom permanent; of the puzzle games I've reviewed in recent times, this one has done a better job of worming its way into my jacket pocket when I leave work. Worth looking into if you feel like you could murder a good puzzle game.
7 / 10
Dialhex is one of seven 'bit Generations' titles released for Game Boy Advance in Japan at a budget price. Nintendo has yet to announce any plans for the games in the West, but each is perfectly playable thanks to English menuing.