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bit Generations: Dialhex (Game Boy Advance) artwork

bit Generations: Dialhex (Game Boy Advance) review

"For a bit, I was on the fence as to whether Dialhex was a worthy puzzle title. Then I looked up during play one evening to discover that it was now 2:30 a.m. and I had neglected my very imminently-due Accounting homework. The title has a low-key depth that quietly draws your in. "

For a bit, I was on the fence as to whether Dialhex was a worthy puzzle title. Then I looked up during play one evening to discover that it was now 2:30 a.m. and I had neglected my very imminently-due Accounting homework. The title has a low-key depth that quietly draws your in.

The game, part of the falling-block genre, is played on a hexagonal board that gradually fills up with small multicolored triangles. The board is cleared by assembling triangles of the same color into hexagons, whereupon they disappear and the surrounding pieces will resettle. Your cursor is a hexagon-shaped dial, with which you can lock on to six pieces at a time, rotating them around the board and into place. The palette of the pieces widens and drop rate accelerates as gameplay goes on, you know the drill. Two modes are on tap - Solo, where you fill a succession of quotas for certain colors of hexagons, and Endless, where you simply clear as many hexes as possible.

The title is work. There's a learning curve for handling the cursor and dialing pieces to certain places. No second thought, for example, is required to direct a falling block to a hole in a well in your average Tetris clone. What about the one odd triangle in a hemmed-in hexagon, though? How do you replace it with a piece of the right color, using only circular motion and without disturbing the other pieces? You have to discover for yourself the very basics of movement and gameplay in Dialhex; as strategies unveil themselves, your mind divides the field into trapezoids and diamonds, tangram-like. Only thought and quick action, not blind fumbling, will win through, as the mechanics allow for precious few happy accidents - you can't very well plan or accidentally trigger chain combos. You have to earn everything, and I respect the game for that.

As per Bit Generations' minimalism, only two special pieces are available. One temporarily eliminates one color from the palette by changing all such pieces to another hue, making matching easier, and the other opens a hole at the bottom of the playfield to let triangles clinky-clink out and very nearly clear the board. But what about "earning everything", you ask? Here, "special" does not mean "superfluous"; the brisk drop rate accounts for the specials, so if you're to complete the game, you'll need to make quick use of every single one. Only one special appears at a time, and relatively few appear in a match, so they're not remotely abusable.

Dialhex's presentation is sleek. Each piece lands in the well with a different high, glassy tone based on its color, all the better to hearken your windchimey doom in the later stages. The shardslides precipitated by a disappearing hex aurally recall a fall of glittering glass. The board is attractive; it starts with an autumnal palette, the triangles like leaves, and then graduates to an Amish quilt as more colors phase in. A satisfying low-key piano and woodwind-ish chiptune serves for the score. (Let it go long enough, and it'll make the same whirring noise toddlers do when driving their Big Wheels.) It's not the splashiest of the bit Generations line, but there's art here. On the tech side, the gameplay's made for the Nintendo portables; spinning the dial left and right with the L & R buttons feels second-nature.

The game takes the same old-school attitude toward validation as it does its gameplay; meaning, it's not handed out like candy corn on Halloween. I finally reached over 100 hex cleared in the Endless mode after a protracted 30-minute battle. As a reward, I got an indifferent "not bad". (At 150+, I did get a "good job!", exclamation point and everything. I actually got worked up over the exclamation point.) This brings me to a drawback - since Dialhex matches tend to be lengthy, it lacks a play-on-the-go quality I'd enjoy. Instead of always starting slow and building, it could use an immediately hectic tough-as-nails setting for five-minute plays to satisfy casual cravings.

Dialhex is a solid puzzle game, and it's fun; we haven't seen this mechanic before, and it encourages your mind to think differently. The mechanic can support much more gameplay than the two modes this title offers, though - I wanted more. The ending showcases several arrays of different tangrams; how about challenging us to create some of those, for instance? Counter to the bit Generations mission statement of bare-bones retro simplicity, yes, but Dialhex's programmers have discovered an idea that's too good to end here. I'd be thrilled to see it resurface from this strong starting point in a more complete package.

This'll tide you over, though. 'Til 2:30 a.m., at least.

Synonymous's avatar
Community review by Synonymous (May 03, 2008)

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