Review: Honeycomb Hotel ULTRA05 Feb 2015 0
It turns out there's a niche into which I fit perfectly but never knew existed: fans of Everett Kaser's games. My love of logic puzzles as a child grew into eager anticipation of each new Analytical Reasoning (that is, logic games) section of the LSAT back when I taught LSAT prep, and has now matured into almost compulsive Honeycomb Hotel play. It has the usual sorts of clues, A and B are in the same row, C is farther left than D, and so forth, but it does it all on a hexagonal board and adds a path which enters and exists each hex exactly once. The hexagon thing is probably the less significant gameplay innovation, but as the official polygon of Pocket Tactics, it gets top billing.
There's also no avoiding the fact that the graphics hail from the era in which we chiseled our computers out of granite and Lite Brite was advanced display technology. You can choose from several tile sets, but they're all basically eye broccoli. Like Dream Quest, the aesthetic sends a message; in this case, it reinforces the nature of the game as an exercise in pure logic. It's a valuable way of filtering players; I expect many users will see a screenshot and instantly move on to something else. Those who don't are likely open to a sterile presentation of the purest form of puzzle.
The reason Honeycomb Hotel is such a delight to play is that the complexity of the interrelationships between the various facts is high enough that you'll be discovering new kinds of deductions even after many hours of play, but they're intuitive enough that you can fully grasp the way the game works after a puzzle or two. I'll spoil just one of them to illustrate the point. Some of the clues will tell you, for a particular tile, which hex sides the path passes through. If these are on the right and the left sides, the tile usually can't be in the rightmost or leftmost spot in its row. That's easy enough to figure out--what's cool is when you realize that, if it's a four-tile row, the path must pass between the two middle tiles.
Even better, the game includes a marvelous method of making progress even if the deductions you're used to making are out of help for you: the "IF?" button. This lets you explore a hypothesis--discover a contradiction in its consequences, and you can unspool every change you made since you clicked it, and now you know that hypothesis was false. There's also a "Hint" button, but I don't know what it does.
As an app, there are lots of little touches I like a lot. Though I distinctly prefer play on the iPad, because even there I occasionally fat-finger a mistaken input (though I've only failed to notice this once, across hundreds of puzzles), the game is perfectly playable on the phone using the magnify option, which makes each tap first zoom in on a particular hex. It's also possible to download a free version with just a few puzzles, the PRO version ($1 for 600 puzzles), or the ULTRA version ($4 for 12,000 puzzles), which seems like an honest attempt to serve the needs of a variety of customers. You can also hide clues once they've delivered their informational payload, which is surprisingly fabulous--I often think of the game as having the goal of hiding clues, rather than filling in the tiles. Even the way it just says "cool" and moves on when you solve a puzzle is pleasantly understated, though you can also have it throw a party like a 1995 solitaire game.
Honeycomb Hotel doesn't truck with intuition, lateral thinking, postmodernism, free love, or Reiki. This is the Enlightenment in video game form, and that's a perspective I can really appreciate in moderation.
Honeycomb Hotel ULTRA was played on an iPad Air and an iPhone 5S for this review.