It takes a bold game developer to take a minimalist approach towards visuals, because in the absence of eye candy, the game is forced to stand purely on design and core gameplay. For Yellow Monkey Studios, going with a barebones art style wasn’t as much a choice as it was a necessity, seeing as how the team is missing an artist. While their last game (It’s Just a Thought) relied very much on a unique idea, with Huebrix, it’s all about the gameplay and the execution. And boy did they get it right.
Huebrix is a grid-based puzzle game. Think of it as a maze, where you must trace its path from start to finish. Only there are multiple different-coloured mazes within each grid, and they cannot overlap. Each of these mazes is represented by a colour and a number. The number represents how many blocks in the grid that colour can occupy. The end objective is to fill all the blocks with the given colours.
It sounds like a fairly basic concept, and at its core, it is, but it’s the various layers of complexity incorporated into these puzzles by way of special blocks that makes Huebrix the head scratcher it is. While in the most basic puzzles, you’re free to fill vacant blocks with colours as you’d like, in the more complex puzzles, there are certain blocks where you can only move in a fixed direction. Then there are those that add or subtract how many more blocks you have to fill. Some puzzles also predetermine points on the grid where the maze must end. There are even portals, where drawing a path through a portal at one end of the grid will make it continue its path through a portal at the other.
I’m probably missing out on a few, but imagine if several of these special blocks were to be incorporated into a single grid, forcing you to solve puzzles in specific ways. That’s when Huebrix really ramps up the challenge, and that’s when it goes from being an interesting concept to a great puzzle game. These various elements and the combinations in which they’re used also ensure that you’re never allowed to settle into one pattern of thinking. It would’ve have been nice, however, if the game gave you some sort of indication of how each new element worked. The one negative I must mention is that some of the more complex puzzles tend to devolve into lots of trial and error since there are multiple mechanics at play and it becomes nearly impossible to just look at the grid and get a hint of how you’re going to set out to solve it. But it’s the puzzles that give you an inkling about their solutions and yet throw up considerable challenges along the way that really stand out, and thankfully, there are plenty of those.
As I mentioned at the start, Huebrix’s art style is minimalistic, but that’s not to say that it’s lacking. This is a game where form meets function, but the use of bright fluorescent and primary colours for the blocks on an otherwise sombre grey background does make the puzzles pop. Aiding the visuals is a pensive soundtrack that does exactly what it’s supposed to – give you something serene to listen to without distracting you from the puzzles.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that there’s quite a bit of disparity in the amount of content available in the two mobile versions. The iOS version, self-published by Yellow Monkey, includes just five level packs containing just over 100 puzzles. The Android version (which is ported and published by Noodlecake Studios), however, includes 21 packs for a total of around 400 puzzles. And since both versions carry the same special $0.99 launch price tag, if you have both platforms at your disposal, the Android version would be the one to get. The additional level packs are, however, available for the iOS version via the in-app store.
The puzzles here, as in most games, don’t have too much replay value and I didn’t find getting a faster time or earning a gold medal enough incentive to replay a level I had already completed. And that’s fine because 400 puzzles is plenty to keep anyone occupied for a long time. In addition to that though, the game includes a level creator, which players can use to create their own puzzles and share them with friends for free. Considering how much content the game already includes, this isn’t a feature the developers needed to included, but they deserve props for doing it all the same.
As an Indian gamer, Huebrix is the first Indian game that I can say I’m proud of, and that’s actually a little sad considering how many I’ve played before this. But calling Huebrix a great Indian game would be doing it a disservice because it is a great puzzle game, period, and one that can quite comfortably exist in the presence of the best in the genre.