By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’m fairly late to this particular review, however somehow this game managed to bypass me entirely until I got it in the latest Humble Bundle for Android. It’s also taken me a fairly significant amount of time to write the review, not because there’s nothing to say but instead because I keep jumping back into the game to double check something and then finding twenty minutes gone.
Super Hexagon is a minimalist action game from the creator of VVVVVV; Terry Cavanagh. From the start the game appears to be a fairly simple affair, the player is given control of a small triangular… well, triangle. I would describe it as a ship, or craft, or something of that sort but none of those quite seem to fit the theme. The triangle has a movement circle around a central point with ‘walls’ moving from the outside towards the centre, your task being to move the triangle to avoid the oncoming walls for as long as possible. The shape these walls take will depend on what difficulty, what level and what particular challenging section your are facing. The level construction is interestingly dynamic, the levels are stitched together from a series of challenges which will be the same for that particular level but will vary in the order in which they occur. There are unchanging points in the level, but interspersed among these are the challenges I referred to. This means that it is not plausible to learn the levels second by second, move by move. Instead it is necessary to master the techniques required to beat the different challenges, although it is almost as important to learn to recognise the early signs of those challenges coming.
I talk about learning the moves like it will be a conscious thing, throwing around the idea like it’ll just work out. In reality no matter how much you’ve learnt, the game will always find a way throw some ridiculous new set of seemingly inescapable walls which you’ll have do on reflex, through luck or just plain fail. I have not quite conveyed just how hard this game is, your top scores will low and every single second will be hard fought for. Much like Hotline Miami the instant level restart button will be your friend, and much like Hotline Miami those retries will just become automatic. A degree of zen is practically necessary in playing Super Hexagon, there’s no frustration in the retries, they just become a mechanism of the game. The fact is that the game is hard enough that each attempt is short and sweet, the loss of progress doesn’t become a profound frustration as much as it just blends into the gameplay itself. In this sense it is an amazing achievement of game design that Super Hexagon doesn’t become a peripheral-smashing nightmare of aggressive frustration. I’ve played my fair share of games that were equally hard but handled it so badly that the frustration simply outweighed any possible desire to continue trying. Somehow Super Hexagon avoids that pitfall of irritable frustration, managing to draw you back in time and time again until hours have passed by and your score is better.
The aesthetics of the game are certainly part of its appeal… and challenge. The levels are made from bold colours in simple and appealing shapes, with movement that only adds to the difficulty of the game. Part of the challenge of the game, especially when tired, is just simply trying to avoid the mesmerising effect of the rotating level. The levels will ramp up the perceptual challenge by rotating around the central axis at varying speeds as well as warping and stretching at the same time. If this weren’t the case then the game would be far less interesting and less challenging, because whilst avoiding the walls is necessary it isn’t possible to avoid them if you don’t see them coming. That’s the essence of the aesthetic, a simple and bold style designed to maximise the perceptual challenge of an already difficult game. I think if I were to describe it, I’d say it looks somewhat like a game you’d see a hacker in a late 80’s-early 90’s hacker movies completely acing, and one where the unsuspecting newbie to the culture lasts 4 seconds on his first attempt.
The sound adds to the aesthetic I started describing in the last paragraph, the game is narrated by a slightly mechanical female voice. Her statement of “Begin” will start to morph into “Again” as you continually restart, adding to that ‘hacker culture’ feel. The music is really worth a mention, as it is the cheese in this cheese toasty; melted, gooey and delicious. The music is chip-tune but with far more grimy feel to it, and whilst there are set tracks for the levels, the risk of it being overly repetitive is avoided through the clever technique of jumping the track to different parts on retries. Much like Hotline Miami, the music makes the game and the mesmerising visuals and addictive gameplay merge with the beat of the music only adding to the sense of zen.
The game is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS and Blackberry. It will therefore run on just about anything and continue to be awesome. The touch screen controls feel different to keyboard controls but not badly so, and this is probably the smallest game where I’ve felt a mechanical keyboard come into its own. (It also means that I have to take responsibility for sucking because input lag is non-existent). The game is remains very playable no matter what device you play it on. The price is £2.00 (approx $2.99) across all platforms, if you’re getting it on Windows, Mac, Linux or Android it’s probably best to go for the Humble Store option is that will provide DRM free copies and/or Steam versions for all of those platforms. If you want it on iOS, well you’ll have to go through the app store because that’s the price you pay for using Fisher Price Kiddies’ First Phone/Tablet. By any stretch that price is an absolute bargain for a game that will last as long as it can.
In conclusion, get Super Hexagon, like get it now, I’m not kidding. It’s cheaper than a cup of coffee, cross platform to an unfathomable extent and brilliant fun.