Developer: Nathan Gray
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 2.1
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 3G, iPad

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

HexaLex is familiar yet different to the word games you know and love. It is at its core similar to Scrabble-derived word games played on boards, but the unique shape of the board creates some new wrinkles. The main one is that you can form a pair of two-letter letter junk words in the course of making a legitimate play, which is put in place because of the complexities that the hexagonal board brings – you have so many more tiles touching, so some leeway was necessary to allow the game to flow. Beyond that, other tweaks like varying word values and bonuses for using 5, 6 or 7 of your tiles exist, to alter your usual word game strategies.

HexaLex certainly is different, and it stands out in that regard compared to other Scrabble clones like Words With Friends, where the hexagonal board really makes things feel familiar, but different. There are plenty of options available in the game to tweak the gameplay experience for local games against either real players or AI bots, where you can play against up to 4 players at once and can tweak the junk word rules or disable them altogether. HexaLex, as of its 2.0 update, features an online mode, and as of 2.1, allows you to play against random opponents. The online mode only lets you play with default rules, but you can chat with even random opponents, and you get push notifications when it’s your turn to play. Unlike Words With Friends, which only sends notifications to the most recent device to log in, push notifications come in on all devices your account is registered to, and playing on a different device doesn’t require a long reloading process – Newtoy could certainly take some tips from HexaLex’s technical backend for their own game. As well, iPad owners will be glad to know that due to the game’s scaling methods, the zoomed out board appears pixel perfect in 2X mode. It’s an odd visual trick that makes the game look great.

But the problem with HexaLex is that what makes it unique is what keeps it from being great. By trying to change up the Scrabble formula, it takes away from some of the simplicity that it and similar games like Words With Friends have brought. In part, the junk word rule shows the flaws of the concept – it just doesn’t work as naturally as similar square board games work, and it never quite feels normal playing the game. As well, the game’s relative obscurity makes finding online matches difficult – prior to the recent 2.1 update that enabled random matches, I was unable to find anyone sharing their HexaLex username, and even now, the random matching takes a long time to find games.

HexaLex is sort of a paradox in the way that it exists because of its differences, but also suffers from them at times. HexaLex will not be a particularly memorable game because of its quirks, but there will certainly be players who get absorbed by what it does. If the concept intrigues you, HexaLex isn’t bad, but word game purists and fans of populated online word games would do better searching elsewhere.

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