The Games of 2012: Super Hexagon

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Terry Cavanagh’s ‘VVVVVV’ was Haruspex Games Official Game of the Year 2010. It was brief, it was smart, and every aspect of it was unbelievably tight. It was very nearly perfect. Super Hexagon is perfect. It’s a single idea refined over and over until it simply couldn’t work any better, with a simple, clean interface, and three looping musical tracks that will burrow into your brain and lay their eggs there.

I guess you could call it a rhythm action game, because like Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution, it’s all about doing the exact right thing at the exact right time. Only, here it’s not hitting notes or dance moves as they fly towards the top of the screen – it’s rotating a tiny triangle around the centre of the screen while geometry contracts around you at hyper-speed. My god, that didn’t make any sense. Just watch the video:

The first time you play Super Hexagon you might spend an hour before you can last fifteen seconds on the first stage. But by practice – by improving your reaction time and by learning the patterns of its randomised stages – you’ll stop failing every five seconds, and slowly start to make your way towards better and better scores. Forty seconds, fifty seconds, maybe even sixty seconds. My god, maybe more. And once you hit sixty seconds and it’s perfect and your heart starts beating again you can move onto the next stage.

And then you’re back at the beginning, and everything is incredibly painful again.There are new patterns to learn. The screen rotates more suddenly and more often. And things are faster – so much faster.

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But you get better. And you become precise. And you do it again and again and again (and again (and again (and again))). But it’s not a grind. And while you could call it addictive it’s not the bullshit Skinner-box addictiveness of many (most) RPGs and MMOs. It’s not ‘I need to get ten wolf stomachs to turn in for this quest so that I can level up, which will qualify me for this next quest where I have to find ten wolf stomachs’. It’s perfect, arcade-style compulsion on par with Pac Man, or Space Invaders, or Tetris. You’ll want to keep playing over and over again not so that you can level up or get some arbitrary reward, but because holy shit this game.

It’s intoxicating in a very real way, and it does strange, fascinating things to your brain. It makes time expand and contract without your prior consent. You’ll be going for ten seconds and then immediately hit the one-minute mark. A particularly lucky run will make you think you’re the king of the world, then you’ll fail and realise you were only alive for six and a half seconds. You’ll gradually shift from constant all-out panic to steely, focused calm, your whole body motionless, the outside world missing, presumed dead, and your pulse pounding along to the beat of the music. And when you come back to an early level after playing later stages you’ll swear the entire world around you is moving in slow motion. What seemed objectively too fast for your reactions two hours ago is now slow, slow, slow. Because you’ve moved that much closer to perfection.

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