The Hex is a difficult game to review, for more reasons than one. But after how much I raved about the developer’s last title, Pony Island, I had to take a stab at this one too. The premise sounds relatively simple on paper: six video game characters representing different genres are staying at an inn, and the bartender learns that somebody is planning a murder. But this is Daniel Mullins, the creator of Pony Island, so we should expect going in that things are not as they seem.
Gameplay in The Hex is fairly simple, as it only uses the arrow keys (or WASD keys) and the mouse. It manages to use these simple controls to replicate various types of games in clever ways, as the player takes control of each character in turn and experiences “flashbacks” that recall their original games. The character tropes match the game styles so the animal mascot character is from a platformer, the Fallout-esque character is from a turn based strategy game, the street tough character is from a fighting game (sort of…), etc.
While it is important to the story to see the backgrounds of each of these characters, I find that some of these sections just feel too long, especially the Fallout-style one. The Hex is best when its delivering rapid fire punches of meta commentary, flipping the game genres to examine the existential underbelly, not becoming them. Granted, you’ll find that there are things inside these game genres that go a bit beyond the norm, so to speak, so The Hex does keep you on your toes.
Indeed, it soon becomes clear that this game is at least as much about the development of each character’s game as it is about what’s happening at the inn. I can’t tell you much without spoiling a ton, but the story builds up at a good pace. Hints to various secrets and plot points are around if you can find them, but even if you stay on the beaten path, The Hex will weave its tale into the gameplay very effectively.
As with any tale about fictional characters being real, the game’s reality does start to break down if you think about it too much; for example, are all of the characters at the inn from the same person’s copy of each game? But fortunately, the story is engaging enough that those concerns won’t generally interfere. Most of the characters are endearing, and the emotional points of the story are generally successful. The only other thing I can say is that you’ll want to pay very close attention to text that isn’t part of the games-within-a-game
Another area of the game that’s worth noting is the visuals. Most parts of the game use a unique hand-drawn visual style with a slight pixel look, which is a nice change of pace. Granted, I do sort of which each character had the visual styles of their respective game genres, but I can understand why that might have undercut the relatability of the characters.
The gothic style isn’t a great fit for everything, though, and I am glad that tweaks are made for each of the internal games as needed. Especially for a game with this sort of concept, I would almost expect more traditional pixel graphics, so it’s cool that they did it their own way. I’ll admit, the visual style doesn’t appeal much to me personally, but I can still appreciate it.
There’s one last thing I can tell you: this game is full of secrets. Some of them lead somewhere, and others seem to just be standalone discoveries. It’s hard to keep track of what’s already been discovered, and there are some threads that the community is still working to figure out.
The Hex is built around a unique idea, and an even more unique execution. While some of the gameplay sections definitely wear out their welcome, the narrative is clever, and it keeps you wondering what might happen next. Mysteries are set up that don’t see a payoff until much later, but it’s all done in a way that makes sense. While this game might not be quite as engaging as Pony Island, it is an interesting and unique experience. As long as you’re prepared for a few tedious segments, you’ll enjoy seeing how this mystery plays out.