Platforms – iOS | PC (reviewed) & Mac | Android [coming soon]
Developed by Terry Cavanagh (Music by Chipzel)
Are you the kind of person who refuses to acknowledge losing? [Game over. Begin.] Oh you don’t mind, you say? [Game over. Begin.] Tell me, do you mind an attempt at this puzzle game lasting a mere [Game over. Begin.] 2.52 seconds? Over and over again? Do you [Game over. Begin.] really have the sort of brazen, dismissive nature that failure is rectified with just a few more attempts? That you have enough time for “Just 15 minutes more!” becoming an hour? BecauGame Over. Begin.
Super Hexagon is a puzzle/action game built on simplicity: movement is two dimensional; the presentation washes the screen with different objects inhabiting different shades of one colour before they all change in unison a few seconds later; the music is highly repetitive, but builds in layers as you progress, giving you an aural progression notification; difficulty is not plonked in to extend how long it takes you to overcome that part of the level, but inserted obviously with the intent of providing satisfaction in completion. Of course it helps that all of these things combined construct something maddeningly addictive and after a short time playing it’s easy to figure out why when you notice them all work in beautiful harmony.
That’s not to say all these things are necessary, but if the presentation was not clear and you could, even for a tenth of a second, not notice your Triangle/Pointer/Arrow/Controlled Thing, you would fail. It’s the fact that all of these things do work together and serve only to build on the raw gameplay base, enhancing it from “Move left or right to dodge the incoming objects” to “Am I losing it? I think I’m losing it. Oh god, all I can see is circles! Someone help me!” I would go so far as to say that the kind of people who enjoy this like a certain brand of insanity and, at the risk of being incredibly cliché, I can only imagine playing Super Hexagon is what it feels like to take drugs…and be forced to navigate a pointy thing round a never ending puzzle.
Immediately you’re assaulted with the game telling you the first level is “Hard”. Take note, this is really the “Easy” level. The game pulls exactly as many punches in the menu as it does in the game, so at least you can’t fault it in its honesty. As you begin, your limited movement directs you to avoid incoming walls heading towards your centre pivot. In progressing, the variety of routes to take to avoid the dreaded “Game Over” will require greater mental and physical dexterity. Every few seconds, the level will shift what kind of walls you’ll have to avoid. For example, maybe you have three different paths you can take to avoid the next incoming wall, but maybe one of those will set you up for the next assault with more chance of you passing that. In many cases, there’ll only be one route of escape and, on those very rare occasions, maybe you’ll be treated to not having to move! Go on, enjoy that whole just-under-a-second of freedom.
It is here and particularly in the later levels, where the sense of control is made apparent to you. You have none. Oh, you think you do, but you really don’t. The game snatches it from you, demands you to dodge and weave like you do have control, but you know you don’t really have it until you hit 60 seconds and ‘completed’ the level. Only then have you proven that you have any sort of control. This isn’t a bad thing though, at all. The sense of satisfaction when you successfully complete a quick segment of “Oh crap, so many objects!” is part of what makes the game captivating, whilst the sensation of feeling like you should’ve failed that previous half a second ago but don’t have time to care as you somehow manage your way round this current mess occupies the other part.
For the most part, the female narrator’s passive displeasure at your inability to overcome the stage, to greet you with an impressed “Game Over” (and shortly afterwards “Begin”), serves only to push you on. The gap between hearing her two phrases may be a matter of seconds or half a minute. The music helps drive you and the feeling that, whilst you may keep hitting a wall at roughly the same time per attempt, you’re still progressing. The brick wall prohibiting progress is cleverly dismissed in two ways. The first, obvious, method is that you simply get better at the game, accommodating its whims. The second is that whilst all the levels are randomly generated, the walls you have to dodge are replayed every so often, so you’ll start to recognise shapes and what you must do to get past them after enough time.
The real challenge though comes in the momentum of it all. The shapes of incoming walls are what you think you have to beat, but in reality it’s speed. You will find yourself choosing the wrong direction around the centre to meet “Game Over” more than enough times, but as things get more hectic, both with the speed at which you are assaulted and are forced to move, as well as the rotating display, keeping track of where you are and where you need to be become increasingly difficult. Seldom is this frustrating though, or at least very rarely will you feel it against the game. It clearly displays how challenging it is and doesn’t pull any foul tricks, so failure can only be blamed on you.
That said sometimes movement isn’t quite how you want it to be and the display isn’t perfect. When straddling the lines of sections in the rotation, it isn’t clear which side you’re on, resulting in a “Game Over” you didn’t really think was. This isn’t aided that the hit-box for the Arrow (that is what part of it the game registers as needing to collide with a wall) is in the centre, so you can actually marginally pass through walls on the side without penalty.
With regards to the movement, and this is a problem I noticed more on the quicker levels, is that single-press movement can at times feel like it under/over (or even at the same time) moves. The problem with this is that what you think will be a safe tap will result you either going into something you thought you’d avoided or slamming into something you weren’t planning on being near. Considering how quick things can get, it’s hard to distinguish where this is player fault or the controls not being quite as tight as perfect. A minor flaw, all things considered, but a noticeable one.
Between the stellar music, wonderfully stark display and maddeningly simple gameplay, there’s a lot to love about Super Hexagon and almost nothing to hate. Its apparent lack of content is simply a lure to the brilliantly frustrating fun within. It wastes no time with set-up or a guiding hand gently pushing you into its insanity, an insanity that can make a second last an eternity. This is a game for people who make curious sounds made up of a string of vowels or consonants as they hit a wall, but forget it all as they slam away at the space button to begin again. As it is unrelenting, it is fantastic.
Boring Stuff: Based on over 14 hours of game-play. Preferred control method is with A and D, but did try out arrow keys and my controller (both shoulder buttons and triggers). At time of writing, only the final level remains unbeaten (standing at just over 40 seconds). It was bought on sale during its first week on Steam (the only place to buy it on PC), but is worth the standard asking financial price of £2. Can’t say much about the price on your sanity, though.