December 4, 2012 by solomonlutze
Terry Cavanagh, of VVVVVV fame, has produced in Super Hexagon a title that is so elegant in its premise, yet so compelling in its execution, that it immediately shot to the top of my favorite iOS titles. The game was also made available for purchase through Steam (See below for details on the Steam version). It may look confusing at first, but even a few minutes with it can have you surprisingly hooked.
Super Hexagon has you controlling a little arrow rotating around a large hexagon. Other hexagonal objects move in towards your hexagon, trying to crush you, and you have to rotate out of their way to escape. The game starts again if you get crushed. The shape in the center changes sometimes, reducing or adding edges (from pentagon to square and back). As you progress longer in a single game, the patterns of incoming objects will shift more quickly. The simplicity of the game can’t be overstated enough; moving left and right around a hexagon, dodging obstacles, is all you’ll do.
The complexity is in how fast-paced the game is. Each obstacle arrives in quick succession. The whole screen spins at different speeds, and sometimes in different directions. The central hexagon pulses in time with the music, and background colors shift to match. The whole thing feels a little like a video game rave of different shapes, topped by an overwhelming rush. At first, parsing the information on the screen rapidly enough is confusing and will keep your games very short-lived; surviving past the ten second mark is a noteworthy achievement when just starting out. The game gets easier once patterns become recognizable, but even then it’s difficult to isolate all the obstacles whipping toward the center. This is all part of the challenge that makes Super Hexagona super fun game.
Losing quickly is a big part of what makes the game work, and even makes it so addictive. There’s no kind of training for the game, and it’s really, really hard. Tap the left and right sides of the screen to rotate around the hexagon. It takes some work to master the fine presses required to dodge obstacles without landing under another, and results in a loss of several games before any sort of knack is developed. After a few hours into the game, making it past 30 seconds is a feat (my current best time as of this review is 53 seconds). The app is very quick to load on an iPhone, and new rounds load in less than half a second. The quick access to the next game multiplied by the drive to better your insanely short lifespan is what makes it so hard to put down after a while is that each round is so short
The game has three difficulties: Hexagon (hard), Hexagoner (harder), and Hexagonest (hardest). More are unlocked after each of the initial difficulties is survived to a point. Cavanagh stated on his blog that he thinks high scores and leaderboards are an integral part of Super Hexagon. This is an understatement. Super Hexagon feels like an old-school arcade game where blisters and dry eyes earned from hours of game play result in your initials on the High Scores. Climbing the leaderboards is half the fun of the game. Super Hexagon is about skill progression, and it’s important to have other scores to aspire towards, match, and eventually destroy.
The audio, much like the visuals, are simple and precise. Synth beats pulse in the background, and the same basic melody evolves through game progression. A robotic announcer calls off each new level and indicates the start and end of each round. It fits with the rave-y feel, and it keeps up the player’s spirits through the inevitable droves of losses.
The Steam version is very similar. Instead of controlling with a touch screen, you can use the left or right arrow keys, or the left and right mouse buttons. The arrow keys feel a little less precise than the touchscreen, though the mouse is pretty reliable. After a little time adjusting, it’s pretty easy to play on Steam or iPhone. The graphics aren’t hurt by the size increase, but there isn’t a benefit either. It’s actually a little trickier keeping eyes on the whole screen when it’s monitor-sized. I prefer the mobile version simply because I want to be able to play this game everywhere, but if you love the thrill of collecting achievements, or don’t have a smartphone, or hate tiny screens: check out the Steam edition.
Presentation – Mesmerizingly simple and lots of fun to watch (expect to see pulsating polygons when you shut your eyes).
Optimization – Executed perfectly without anything more. Not all games need to be this simple, but Super Hexagon does so with commendable precision.
Ingenuity - The concept isn’t too far off from something like Tetris. It may not be groundbreaking, but it improves on similar concepts with modesty and efficiency.
Sound - The music contributes to the fun (and challenge) of the game, and serves well to keep you glued to the screen.
Entertainment – Eventually repetitive, the fun-per-second ratio is higher than any other iOS game I’ve seen. This is good for hours of addition.
Developers looking for an example of a game whose concept is executed gracefully and precisely on all fronts should be grateful to have such a worthy object of study. Commuters and office dwellers should celebrate having such a hypnotic and compelling game to play, even in the smallest increments. Super Hexagon is beautifully simple and unapologetically diabolical, only allowing gamers to spend a quarter second between hundreds of rounds to truly appreciate how well it works.
GamerCheese Score: 5 out of 5