Super Hexagon Review – Terry Cavanagh Is About to Make You His Bitch
Super Hexagon is pure GAME. It’s like the platonic ideal of a videogame, and perhaps by the perfection of its gameplay we can measure the imperfection of any other game’s mechanics.
Story? There is no story. Does a tree need a story? Does a chair or a rainstorm need a story?
The gameplay can be rather simple to describe. Your triangular avatar can move clockwise or counter-clockwise around a central axis, and must move to avoid the onslaught of killer geometrical patterns surrounding and advancing upon your central location.
Despite its simple gameplay mechanics, Super Hexagon is not a casual game; oh no, it is the hardcorest of the hardcore. The game starts out hard and becomes insane (I know this only from watching others play it online).
Super Hexagon requires only two arrow keys to control, and the controls are as tight as Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow costume. But during my initial period of warming up to the game, I actually found myself wishing that the controls were just a tad more sluggish. Everything was just going too fast for me. I found myself exposed as an imperfect player in a perfectly calibrated world where only the fastest response time would be adequate. In fact, it would be quite impossible to survive at all in later levels of the game if your movement speed was reduced by even a tiny fraction. It’s also worth noting that movement in this game is strictly digital: you’re either moving at top speed or you’re standing still.
But the glowing geometry pulses and spins and pitches and jumps, and just as you feel like you’ve finally got a rhythm going, like you can survive a little longer, the screen begins to slowly rotate the other way, and for a fraction of a second you’re disoriented, your focus shifts and–
During my first hour or so of playing Super Hexagon, in bursts of 2-18 seconds, I began to question my capacity for punishment. For how much longer could I continue this exquisite agony? The game was undeniably fun, but was it normal to die this much? But then–
–something clicked. But it seems more accurate to say something melted. In any case, the swirling maze of geometrical hazards suddenly gelled into something I could comprehend. My focus subtly shifted, almost like I had just seen the hidden image in a Magic Eye stereogram.
I had it now! I was in the zone. I felt like I was Luke Skywalker the first time he smacked the Jedi training orb with his eyes closed. I was tapping into the Force. And then I died again. But look–I had a new record! Maybe I could get better at this game after all.
Before realizing that my finger had already hit the spacebar, I heard the siren’s calm call: “Begin.”
I played from that point on with more skill, and for longer stretches of time (though I am still too embarrassed of my pitiful best time to disclose it here). I phased into the zone almost at will. Menacing polygons danced around me and I deftly manoeuvred through each opening as they presented themselves. The walls formed a spiral tunnel, which I gleefully spun around and exited and was a half-second too slow, or a millimetre too imprecise, and–
As I continued playing, “Begin” and “Game over” and “Begin” followed one another naturally and rhythmically, becoming one with the pulsing music and the spinning, tilting labyrinth of deadly shapes.
And that voice (is it the voice of the hexagon itself, or of an interested third party?) is soothing, never mocking, always inviting you to play another round, as she warmly but firmly informs you of your failure. A colder voice, or a robotic voice, would have completely changed the character of the game. The game is hard, but it doesn’t hate you. The voice and the music encourage you, make you feel like you’re welcome, even if you are going to be smashed against a wall a few seconds from now. “Begin” means “I believe in you” and “Game over” means “You can do it!” Restarting is but a key press away, a motion that has become so automatic to me now that I have to consciously choose to not tap the space key if I want to stop playing.
Visually, Super Hexagon is beautiful, like an Op Art masterpiece in motion. I’d like to hang on my wall a digital picture frame displaying an endless loop of Super Hexagon being played to infinity. And of course this beauty is an obstacle for the player. Getting caught up in the hypnotic patterns will distract you from where the next opening is, and the briefest moment of distraction in Super Hexagon means failure.
The energizing chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel is sublime. The music starts off in a random place each time you begin a run, and my favourite parts of the soundtrack seem to inspire better play. Sometimes you want to keep playing just to keep listening, but getting too wrapped up in the tune, or any other kind of focus-splitting, is a formula for disaster in Super Hexagon. If you want to concentrate on the awesome music, you should purchase the 3-track digital EP here:
So how is Super Hexagon different from its free progenitor Hexagon? Basically, Super Hexagon has more of everything–more levels, more patterns, more music, more psychedelic and vertiginous effects… And one surprising feature: more forgiving collision detection. Super Hexagon, unlike it’s younger sibling, allows you to “hug” the corners, sides, and the backs of walls and polygons as they rush past you (or is it you rushing past them?) It’s not easy to pull off in practice, but this ability does start you off at a more forgiving place than Hexagon, where any brush meant instant death. The addition of this feature makes the game a bit more strategic, and I believe corner-hugging will become a necessary skill in Super Hexagon‘slater difficulty levels.
The simplicity of the game mechanics, the brief length of each play session, and the real possibility to improve your skill level through practice all help to make Super Hexagon a compulsively replayable experience. Even if I never do beat the first difficulty setting, I know I will keep coming back to try. And Super Hexagon will always welcome me back with a warm, deadly embrace.
Super Hexagon is available on Steam for $2.99 beginning November 27: http://store.steampowered.com/app/221640/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul is intensely interested in digital and analog indie games, game development, and games journalism. He keeps a blog about cool indies at indiegamehunt.tumblr.com and has a couple of other websites in the works. His day job involves writing about a topic that has nothing to do with games and is too boring to mention here, but he is glad to have any opportunity to write about something he loves. Paul also dabbles in game design, cartooning, and non-interactive fiction, but most of his time is currently dedicated to raising his precocious toddler.