Super Hexagon – Pure Gaming
It ‘s always a clue when the easiest difficulty level is called “HARD.” With Super Hexagon, indie game creator Terry Cavanagh, best known for “VVVVVV VVVVVV VVVVVV VVVVVV VVVVVV VVVVVV” (I think I spelled that right), gives us his signature lo-fi spin on the genre started all those years back by Tempest. The aim of the game is to successfully avoid incoming segments of fractured hexagons which contract towards the middle of the screen in concentric waves. The player is represented on screen by a small triangle, which they rotate round a central hexagon; this constitutes the sum total of player interaction. If only everything else were so simple. I lasted approximately 1.02 seconds on my first go, and when, by my tenth attempt, I hadn’t reached any further than three seconds in to the game, I was ready to call Super Hexagon the worst game I’d ever played. The game was no more than an early Nintendo ”Game&Watch”, albeit one with a trippy visual style and a banging chiptune soundtrack. If I hadn’t been reviewing the game I would have dismissed it right there and then, but thankfully my sense of duty and a desire to find out why this has a five star rating on the Play store, kept me going.
There’s a moment with some games where you cross over some kind of unseen threshold, a mental barrier is broken and suddenly you get it. This happened with Super Hexagon when I started seeing patterns in the randomly generated levels, recognizable paths in the seemingly haphazard obstacle course. Slowly I got better, my game time grew to ten, then twenty seconds and suddenly I couldn’t put it down. Every fraction of a second that I extended my high score by, was a hard fought victory. Then, after realizing that each ten second interval in the game unlocked a new level and one more facet of a mythical hexagon, it became clear that to beat the game all I had to do was reach sixty seconds game time. Now this sounds strange, aiming to play a game for at least a minute; it’s pathologically contrarian to the modern game ethos, which habitually handholds the player. But Super Hexagon is different, it makes you struggle for the rewards of playing it, every tenth of a second added to the clock is a glorious win; without the jacked up difficulty level there are no stakes to the game, something it’s contemporaries seem to have forgotten. The very fact that Super Hexagon is punishingly hard, and confrontationally so, is what makes it so addictive.
Visually you will be assaulted by a hypnotic barrage of techno-psychedelia, shifting hues and distorting game planes add to the trance like effect driven by the repetitive game-play. I don’t use the term repetitive in a negative sense, it’s indicative of the game doing one thing, and doing it well. As you progress further you’ll be confronted by more and more elaborate labyrinthine configurations to navigate, but when you inevitably crash and burn, it won’t be the fault of the level design, but your mere mortal reflexes.
The excellent chiptune soundtrack is provided by Northern Ireland’s Chipzel, and adds suitably driving beats to accompany your many deaths. Working in tandem with the pulsating game screen, the music really spurs you on, drawing you in to the “zone,” which so many games of this ilk demand you attain before you can even think of beating them.
Harder and Hardest game types are unlocked after crossing milestones in the default difficulty, and they each bring new elements. Harder (or Hexagoner in the game’s terminology) is defined by increased speed and fine maze-like channels that appear to be impossible to negotiate until you actually get through one by a combination of luck and perseverance. Hexagonest is… Well I would love to tell you what the hardest setting is like but I can only get six seconds in to it, not enough to give a fair assessment. But I’m willing to speculate that it’s very tricky.
Super Hexagon (the ‘super’ prefix refers to it being a kind of sequel to the original Flash version) has been nominated for several design awards and rightfully so. It embodies the essence of gaming that many other titles eschew, favoring instead to hide behind cosmetic flair, or half baked narratives. Cavanagh has chosen to prioritize game-play above all else and delivers a thing of unpretentious purity. One that has a mind destroying difficulty of Sisyphean proportions, admittedly; but it stays true to it’s concept and delivers an addictive and unique experience.