I’m interrupting my anticipated schedule of posts to rant a moment about this beautiful, amazing game. Super Hexagon is by indie developer Terry Cavanagh. It’s…well, the conceit is very simple but makes very little sense on paper. In Edge Magazine‘s words:
You control a tiny arrow, sliding it along a fixed circular arc while varying arrays of lines glide – or, in the harder stages, careen – toward the hexagonal vortex at the centre of the screen. The aim is to slip through any available gaps to avoid collision. Your arrow rotates clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on which side of the touch-screen you press.
It looks like this, or this. That’s you in the middle, orbiting the central hexagon, dodging the light-coloured bars as they rush you.
I love this game because it is first and foremost a game, and it succeeds utterly as a game. That may sound like a strange statement to people outside the gaming world, but if you game, you know that the vast majority of games present themselves as something-not-a-game: it’s a movie, or it’s a story, or it’s eye candy, or it’s a social network, or…whatever. And under the veneer, the gameplay itself — the actual game — often sucks. There’s a wonderful lecture by [my hero] indie developer Jonathan Blow, who made Braid, on this subject: once you strip away the shine, what does the game actually ask you to do? And if that sucks, why are you playing it? (More damningly, from a creator’s perspective: why are you asking someone to do this?)
In this world, Super Hexagon comes as a breath of fresh air. It is so…pure. There are very few elements: the light-and-dark graphics; the techno/chiptunes score; the indifferent, minimalist-GladOS voiceover so evocatively described by Ben Kuchera at the PA Report…that’s pretty much it. The whole experience is designed to let you play.
And once you’re playing…well, the game came out today and it’s already famously difficult. I’ve lasted forty-two seconds on the easiest difficulty (which is called “Hard”), and that feels like a triumph. But, like last year’s Dark Souls, a tremendously challenging fantasy RPG, Super Hexagon feels fair. If you screw up, it’s your fault. If you succeed – you earned it. You can and have to take full responsibility for your outcome. And I find that immensely satisfying. (Again, for those outside the gaming world: contrast this to a market full of games in which, if you let yourself get shot, you can hide behind a rock and…shake it off. In Kuchera’s words: “Most games take great pains to hold your hand and pat your head. Indifference is refreshing.”)
For me, playing Super Hexagon almost becomes a kind of mental training. Failures in action flow from failures in thought, the game seems to say. Over-reliance on one approach. Passivity. Lack of attention. Hesitation. Playing the game feels like pruning away these habits in favor of a purer openness: Attention. Economy. Elegance. Calm. All I need to do is see and respond. The right answer is there in front of me. It feels like a combination of solving logic puzzles and Zen meditation.
It’s great. Sound like your sort of thing? It’s just 99¢ on the App Store for iOS. I’m #1,063 on the leaderboards right now (top 20% percentile, woo!) — can you beat me?