Ten seconds into your first go on Super Hexagon you’ll be faced with a game over screen. Ten seconds after that you’ll probably see another. Within a couple of minutes you might lose track of how many times you’ve heard the words “Game Over” droned at you, cutting short each playthrough with all the tenderness of a punch in the face. Half an hour later you probably won’t care much, as you try and hold yourself back from tapping that screen to retry yet again. That this comes from Terry Cavanagh, developer of masochistic indie puzzler VVVVVV, shouldn’t surprise you; Super Hexagon shares its brutally addictive difficulty and retro sheen. But this is a step up in all the right ways.
Taking control of a barely-there arrow at the centre of the screen, you rotate yourself around a pulsating hexagonal singularity by pressing left or right on the touchscreen. The aim is to avoid the patterns of barriers that are being sucked in towards you, skitting around as you spot then race to reach gaps before slamming into a wall. One hit and it’s game over for you. To add to the challenge the level rotates as well, as do, er, the barriers. Often in the opposite direction. Always incredibly fast. Speed increases the longer you last, patterns become more complex and rotations shift frequently as you test your reactions to the limit. Reach 60 seconds and the level hits the fast forward button, hastening your crushingly inevitable end. Your reward for lasting a minute? Why, a whole new level of difficulty of course.
The breakneck pace of the gameplay extends to the visuals, all pulsing colours and speeding lines. Levels swirl by in a demented retro-vortex, looking like a black hole that’s swallowed a Commodore 64. It’s all complimented by a driving chiptune soundtrack (courtesy of Northern Irish musician Chipzel) that adds an element of intense rhythm-action to the whole package. Each playthrough is a noisy rush of hypnotic shapes and sounds, lasting mere seconds before you start it all over again.
And you will start again. Repeatedly. Super Hexagon is “one-more-go” gaming taken to the next level. Toilet breaks become longer, commutes begin to feel shorter. For a game where the average playthrough will last no more than 30 seconds, it certainly can eat up the hours. It’s been a long time since gamers were presented with such a compelling high score chase, with each bite-sized shot potentially edging up your best time in split-second increments. Game Center integration will have you keeping tabs on friends progress, while the leaderboards will give you plenty of “how the fuck did he get that time there’s no way” moments.
It’s not all perfect, of course. Collision detection is sometimes shonky as all hell, allowing you to randomly veer straight through some walls while punishing you for scraping a stray pixel against others. And while there are patterns to the levels, the random nature of them means you’ll often get stuck with difficult sections early on, making high scores as much about luck as skill. But there is skill to it. You can feel yourself getting better the more you play, as your reactions adapt to the speed of the levels, and your sense of pattern recognition gets better at spotting the gaps speeding towards you. When you finally tear your eyes from the screen don’t be surprised if you see spinning hexagons every time you close your eyes.
There’s a purity to Super Hexagon that’s completely refreshing. You’ll have no difficulty in grasping the concept, no need for highly detailed graphics, or controls any more complex than left and right. In many ways it’s a videogame stripped down to the bare bones; A fast and flashy reaction test, completely repetitive and endlessly replayable. And yet, it’ll be better than any number of big budget home console titles you’ll play this year. If there’s going to be a better iOS game in the near future, it’ll have to be something very special indeed.
Not to be missed.
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Super Hexagon is available to download now.
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This article was first posted on September 17, 2012