Sawbuck Gamer

Super Hexagon

The Hexagony And The Ecstasy

Super Hexagon balances punishing difficulty with zen-like vibes.

By Adam Volk • October 3, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

There are moments playing Super Hexagon when I feel like I’ve attained a higher state of consciousness, lost amid a euphoric wave of color and sound. Then there are moments when I want to smash my iPhone against a wall and unleash a string of four-letter expletives that would shame a drunken Juggalo. That kind of love-hate polarity is at the heart of Super Hexagon, a game in which merciless difficulty is counterbalanced by addictive screen-tapping vibes.

With barebones visuals and controls, Super Hexagon is also an exercise in minimalism. You are a tiny arrow stuck in the middle of a colorful world of swirling polygons. A quick tap to the left rotates you counter-clockwise, while a tap to the right rotates you clockwise. Your goal is to avoid an endless onslaught of lines which spiral in towards you from all angles. Each stage lasts a scant fifteen seconds, yet those seconds can feel like an eternity as the cycle of failure and completion begins and ends almost as quick as you can tap the screen. At first, even hitting five seconds seems impossible.

When Super Hexagon is at its best you’ll fall into an almost zen-like trance of colors and catchy beats (with a soundtrack created by Irish chiptune musician Chipzel). At its worse, it’s an exercise in maddening frustration. In that sense, it’s a game that rewards patience and skill, walking players along a swirling hexagonal line between love and hate.

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  • George_Liquor

     Hey look, it’s the Time Tunnel!

    Doug! Tony! Where are you?

  • Captain Internet

    Pedantry time:

    Each level actually lasts a minute, divided into six sub-stages lasting ten seconds, not fifteen- point, line, triangle, square, pentagon and hexagon. There are six of these levels, but you’ll kill off at least a week’s of bus / Tube / toilet journeys just trying to get past the first. 

    It’s very, very hard, but it’s one of those games that re-programmes you as you play it. It’s like listening to a full Captain Beefheart or Ephel Duath album- you start off confused and miserable, but if you can go the full hour, normal music doesn’t seem worth listening to.

  • Effigy_Power

    So it’s the intro to “Day of the Tentacle”?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       That was my first thought upon seeing the title page graphic! I was slightly disappointed that it was a review of an ios port of a flash game and not a great feature piece exploring a treasured classic game.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    If you’re not following Terry Cavanagh on twitter you really should. guy rules and drops knowledge on pretty much every indie dev out there. He also currently holds the world record at his own game. My hero.

    https://twitter.com/terrycavanagh

  • duwease

    A Juggalo is capable of shame?

    …are you sure?

    • Effigy_Power

      I also find that unlikely. I’ve looked at the pictures of those two butt-nekkid juggalo-chicks like a million times and I can’t detect any shame.
      IT’S FOR SCIENCE!

      • HobbesMkii

        Nananananana, you have a clown fetish! Nananananana!

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         But the minute you detected an inkling of shame, the science would end and the leering would begin, right?
        Sicko!

        I’M NOT PROJECTING!

      • Enkidum

        I think I need to conduct some research too. Uh… where does one conduct this research, anyways?

  • blue vodka lemonade

     Despite the difficulty, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten mad at Hexagon or Super Hexagon, or even frustrated. People say, “you won’t like five seconds!” and “it’s only a minute to win, but you’ll never make it!” like those are necessarily bad things. Instead, it makes each game remarkably low-stakes. Any time you lose, you know that you could very well win the game in another minute.

    Jane McGonigal‘s book Reality is Broken cites some scientific studies about failure in games, including the very-difficult mobile game Super Monkey Ball. When people lose in a difficult game, they actually get a little burst of endorphins out of it. Losing gets you psyched to try again, so long as the barrier to trying again is low.

    In short: I love Super Hexagon because anytime I play it, for however much time I have, there’s a chance I’ll win. Also: the touch controls kinda suck, because you can accidentally brush the screen and lose that way. So, while Super wins points for portability and difficulty levels, regular-old Hexagon is a slightly nicer experience.

    • caspiancomic

       Whooohaha, thanks for the link. I’ve been meaning to play this game but don’t have any touchy screeny appy devices, so the browser version was a great way to scratch that itch. Although, I’ve been playing it for like half an hour now, and only just managed to make it to “square.” I don’t think I’ll try and make it to the end… I think an epileptic killed this guy’s parents and he’s out for revenge or something

      • blue vodka lemonade

         I’m much better at the Flash version, and can actually make it to a minute or a little longer. On my iPad I can get to about 15 seconds because of the difficulty in hovering juuuuust over the screen without brushing it accidentally.