Super Hexagon is the sort of game that seems simple and obvious once it’s made. You control a small triangle rotating around a pulsing hexagon, which is also rotating, and your job is to avoid the oncoming brightly-coloured walls by dodging through the gaps for as long as possible.
Which is not very long. It is fast. It is almost impossibly fast. Here’s a review that starts to get into what happens when you play, the sense that you just have to keep playing and soon you’ll work it out, soon you’ll be able to get your eyes to see fast enough and your fingers to respond, and you’ll get beyond 10 seconds of play. Then 15. Then 26. Then more.
It’s gotten very competitive for me. I’m playing the game as relaxation, to get into a flow state in down time, to shed the concerns of the day by occupying my brain with something simple, linear, interesting, with a clear win state. But there’s also a nagging sense that I need to get better at this game, like simply being decent isn’t good enough. Last night I unlocked Hyper Hexagonest, the hardest game mode possible, and I’m at a high score of 16 seconds on it. Maybe when I get to 60 it’ll be enough.
Last Thursday was the Wild Rumpus, which this time included a Super Hexagon tournament, using the shoulder bumpers on an Xbox controller rather than tapping a screen. I fluffed my turn in the first round – too much wine, I suspect. 36 seconds. On Friday, almost as if in protest and guilt, I set new personal bests in four of the six available levels. A part of my brain won’t let go of the desire to be best, no matter how unattainable it is.
Super Hexagon is one of those wonderfully difficult, intricate yet simple games that tricks you into competing against yourself and believing, somehow, that there’s something you can do differently this time to stave off failure. My experience and my ability is far too dependent on mood and tiredness and – to be honest – the whole thing hinges on twitch reflex and pattern recognition, on skills that can’t be trained with ease. It’s hard to get better. That’s why every personal best seems like an achievement, a demonstration of worth. It’s also why most people won’t want to get to the last level, never mind put in the time necessary. It’s not for everyone. It’s just too hard.
But for people like me, who thrive on rhythm and pattern and unlocking complexity, and who have that bit in their brains that says yes more do better must do better must get it Right, it’s horribly addictive yet gloriously relaxing, both at once. It feeds perfectionism while keeping attainment at arm’s length, ever distant. It is a beautiful bastard of a game.