The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

A review of HexaLex. Get a chance to win a free copy!

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I have a free copy of this game to raffle off, thanks to the generosity of developer Nathan Gray. Details at the end of this review.

Every once in a while, an app comes along that I just happen to discover and get addicted to completely by accident.  HexaLex ($1.99) is one of those games, and while strictly speaking is not an iPad app (it’s written for the smaller iPhone screen) it still plays perfectly fine on both devices.

If you’ve been following this blog closely, you know that I’m addicted to the game Words with Friends (hereafter referred to as WwF), which is a reasonable facsimile of Scrabble with its own little twists and tricks, particularly of the online multiplayer sort. Well, HexaLex takes the best parts of both games and slaps them onto what looks like the surface of a beehive. This ups the challenge level considerably, and throws out a few of the reliable strategies you may have developed as a longtime Scrabble or WwF player.

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Words With Friends, on a beehive. Sweet!

Honestly, the new layout isn’t quite as sadistic as it sounds. The gameplay allows for what are termed as “junk words”, meaning you can get away with using two-letter nonsense words to help you along as you plan your move. However, you can’t just play a junk word by itself – you still need to play a legal word as your main move. You’re given up to 2 junk words per turn, but it’s still not all that easy.

What does make things easier, though, is the interface (especially in comparison to WwF). As you place your tiles on the board, the game instantly gives you feedback as to whether you’re playing a legal word or not. If you’re playing multiple words in a turn and one of them is illegal, it will helpfully inform you which one is a dud. Plus, as you hit the button to submit the word, HexaLex shows you the potential total point score of that word before you commit to the move (no more doing fuzzy arithmetic in your head at 3 in the morning – or is that just me?)

Did I mention that you can play not just against the computer, but against up to three other online players? This. Is. Awesome!

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Another gameplay feature that I love: you have up to three complete rack swaps per game, meaning if you have a set of totally crap letters, you can choose to dump all 7 back in the pool in the hope of getting better ones – all without sacrificing a turn.This is a great feature, sort of like turbo boost in a racing game;  used strategically at the right time, it can mean the difference between winning or losing.

Other key interface points that make me smile: you have an info button that shows you a detailed history and stats on you and your opponent, as well as the ability to name your games for quick reference (or just if you want to exercise your sense of humor).

There is even a built in tutorial that takes you through all these features and more.

Finally, there’s an online leaderboard that will wring every last bit of competitive juice out of me! After 3 days of play, I’m currently 16th on the weekly points score list – and you can bet I’m going to be challenging those 24 other players on that list sooner or later 🙂

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I’m hard pressed to come up with any negative aspects about this game (other than the fact that it makes diving back into a WwF game suddenly feel so starkly vanilla) but the top on my list would be of course, the need for HD support so it looks better on the iPad. The chat icon on the gameboard could also be a tad more visible; it’s easily overlooked. I also like to play music in the background while playing WwF and thinking over my moves – with HexaLex, it’s not an option because the game takes over the audio and kills any tunes you might be playing.

And probably another possible negative is that if you find WwF to be challenging you’re definitely going to get your ass kicked in HexaLex – it’s nowhere near as friendly. (On the bright side, no one seems to have developed a cheat / helper app for HexaLex yet, unlike the ones for WwF … cheaters, you know who you are and shame on you!)

I can sum up this review as follows: I took WwF off my dock (gasp!) and replaced it with HexaLex. Considering how many apps there are on my iPad and how limited the dock space is, that’s saying a lot.

Now, on to the fun part: leave me a comment and tell me what apps have earned the honor of being on your iPad or iPhone Dock. You can even go on and tell us why if you’re feeling chatty. I’ll pick a winner at random exactly a week from now and that lucky person will get a free copy of HexaLex!

August 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments