December 9, 2015 3:20 PM | John Bridgman
Quietly, Matthew Brown Games have produced an exceptional library of minimalist puzzle games of outstanding quality. The three Hexcells games took mechanical inspirations from other puzzles like Minesweeper and Picross, expanding on them with stellar design and clever interactions to create phenomenal games. The newest title in the pseudo-series, Squarecells, recently released on Steam and continues this trend.
This time, as evidenced by the name, the cells in question are of the four-sided variety as opposed to the prior three games' six. This change, interestingly, makes for more simple puzzle layouts, yet doesn't sacrifice any of the mind-bending puzzling the series is known for. While it plays a bit more like picross than Minesweeper this time around, there are still some very solid implementations of the mechanics to challenge you.
If you're familiar with the Hexcells games, you'll feel right at home with the minimalist presentation. A single colour to indicate cells on a stark white background with few decorations may sound bland, but it's warm and inviting in application. There's no distractions to keep you from your objective, clearing and marking cells as instructed by the rules of the game. The music is soft and ambient, and in its own way helps you get absorbed in the game. Few puzzle games really embrace you getting stuck in to just finish one more level, and Squarecells is one of them.
You may be put off by there being only 36 levels to complete, but one thing these games have always excelled at has been making you get plenty of game in a small package. The difficulty ramps up quickly, and since none of the puzzles demand guesswork, the challenge is genuine and absolutely rewarding. Even if it seems like a puzzle isn't giving you suitable information, you can be assured it's there. The design of these levels is remarkable.
Due to the nature of the puzzles, there's not really any immediate replay value. Really this is a game that you can sit down with and think at for several hours, and then be done with after you've completed it. Eventually the patterns and solutions will slip from your mind, but that will vary from person to person. Generally this is just a one time through game, but it's definitely worth it.
There are actually a few quality of life improvements in Squarecells over Hexcells. There are indicators for your row and column as you move your mouse pointer through the grid, so you can keep everything lined up much easier. Since three-starring levels requires not making mistakes, reducing the chances of a misclick is very welcome. This, along with the simpler layouts, keeps the puzzles visually cleaner than those in Hexcells, and may be easier for some folks to keep track of.
Squarecells is quite honestly brilliant. It's probably not quite as good as the Hexcells games overall, with its simpler layouts reducing the amount of design space available for levels. But not being quite as good as Hexcells still makes it one of the best pure puzzle games available, and I cannot recommend it enough to puzzle fans. In fact, if you're not a fan of the genre normally, but want a good mental challenge, give Squarecells a try. I am almost certain you'll enjoy it.