Super Hexagon: Six Sides of Awesome

After thousands of losses and months of play, I am just 17.87 seconds away from beating the final level of Super Hexagon. And when the clock ticks pasts 60:00, I will prize that moment as one of my greatest gaming achievements.

This is weird for me, because I’m a brain-games person, not a finger-games person. I like games that take forever to play and even longer to master. Games where you spend as much time learning how to play as you spend actually playing the damned thing.

Yet Super Hexagon, in which my all-time average round length is probably somewhere under ten seconds, is also one of my all-time favorite games. There’s a lot to learn from a game that can break my expectations of a genre, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how Super Hexagon makes me feel and why I play it.

It Feels Good to Know I’m Improving

Almost from session to session, I know I’m getting better at the game. This improvement might be incremental, but it’s there and it’s gratifying.

Super Hexagon’s game design maximizes this feeling in a couple of ways: it has a focused objective (survival over time), and you are given many (many, many, many) trials in which to improve.

Moreover, the game is awesomely efficient at bringing you back to the action. After you lose, a single tap anywhere on the screen takes you right back into the fray. A game isn’t menus. It’s a game. For small arcade-style games, it’s especially important to keep your player playing the game as much as possible. Super Hexagon nails this.

In a single session, you will play dozens and dozens of seconds-long rounds. All that focused feedback makes you hypersensitive to small improvements. It feels like a big deal when you pick up the game and find yourself consistently reaching ten seconds past yesterday’s performance.

To win, you must move precisely, navigating and switching between particular wall patterns. The walls you get aren’t completely random, but a series of wall patterns, and you start mastering them each in turn. You end up improving in phases, and noticeably so, as sections that once seemed impossible become trivially easy. It’s far more gratifying to know that you can “beat” this or that pattern, because you often can’t tell that your reaction times are getting better–that sort of thing sneaks up on you.

Super Hexagon’s modular level design gives you more chances to feel better about your performance in every session.

It Feels Good to Have a Goal

Months after its release, I still play Super Hexagon, an arcade game that technically never ends, because I have a goal: beat all six levels by surviving for sixty seconds in each.

Now, sixty seconds is just an arbitrary stopping point set by the game’s designers. But reaching that final sixty seconds is no mean feat, so it’s a goal that seems both worthwhile and attainable. The game keeps on going after that, but once I break past sixty seconds on Hexagonest Hyper Mode, personally, I’m done. I’m retiring until the sequel comes out. And I will be exceedingly happy.

It Feels Good to Stop Losing

This is my favorite part of Super Hexagon. You spend most of your time losing, but you get pretty zen about it. Losing happens in Super Hexagon, and it happens a lot. You know it and you expect it. But starting again is so, so easy. Each new round is enticingly full of potential, and the amount of energy you need to invest to try again is ridiculously low.

But the best part of frequent losing is that once you’re on a roll, you are on a fucking roll.

You might be stalling at a 10- to 15-second plateau, and then suddenly find your time shooting up past 20 seconds–25, 26, 27… And when you realize it, you get this kick of adrenaline because you have no idea how far you can go. Your movements are so correct and so masterful that you can’t believe it’s you doing what you’re doing. It’s like you’re a runner breaking away from the pack and pulling mysterious speed out of nowhere to finish way ahead of your competitors. It’s thrilling, and it washes away the frustration of your numerous previous failures. And it makes you want to play more.

IT FEELS GOOD, MAN

Super Hexagon deserves the praise it’s getting because it does what few games, brain-games or finger-games, do well: it streamlines an experience down to its very essentials and makes that experience worth more than the sum of its parts.


5 replies
  1. Stefan Lopuszanski says:

    Great overview of what makes Super Hexagon such an addicting experience. I’ve only played the game for maybe 2-3 hours total and have only managed to get just under 35 seconds on the “easiest” difficult mode.

    I wonder what platform you play it on, as I think that has a lot to do with success. The larger the screen the easier it is to recognize the upcoming patterns and adjust accordingly.

    I’d also mention the great feeling you get when the shifting patterns come and you adapt to successfully overcome them.

    Additionally, the sensitivity of the game is a great learning hurdle. Until you get used to the mechanics of movement, you lose quite frequently. Knowing how long you have to push to get a 180 degree rotation is an extremely important stepping stone. There are quite a number of other stepping stones (how much to turn 1 side, when it becomes a maze instead of just walls, when a shifting wall occurs, etc.) are all little things that compound to show improvement.

    Finally, how can you not mention the catch music that somewhat syncs up to the game patterns? That’s one of the biggest highlights to the game! The walls bouncing in rhythm to the techno beats just pulls you into another world and holds you hostage as you try over and over to escape the madness that is the hexagon. Fun times all around!

    Reply
  2. The Professor says:

    And this, my friend, is also just what practice for anything feels like. In my case your article sounded exactly like what I had to do before my college audition, which WAS like Hexagonest Hyper Mode but with only one chance (but, I made it in, and it felt good).

    Super Hexegon is masterfully designed because it touches that part of our psyche that wants to get better and wants to achieve goals. It touches one of the best parts of human nature, imo.

    Thanks for writing this awesome article.

    Reply
  3. keal says:

    Great description of the game experience! The last time I enjoyed a game like SH was the old arcade game by Williams called Robotron: 2084 (which I still play on an emulator with an Xbox 360 controller to re-create the original dual joystick layout). Same adrenalin rushes and sense of accomplishment. It would be nice to see more great games like these, but I can live with just these 2 if nothing similar comes out again. There’s 30 years between Robotron and Super Hexagon so I won’t be crossing my fingers for another masterpiece in my lifetime!

    For what it’s worth, I played the Steam PC version of SH and after 60 seconds on the final level, you reach the actual final (and non-selectable) blavk and white level. The game ends and the credits roll. However, I also bought SH in a Humble Bundle, and the non-Steam version doesn’t end the same place. You have to play the final gray level for 60 seconds, then upon reaching the b&w level, you’ve got to last 60 seconds more. Mind you, that’s where I am right now. I haven’t lasted more than 7 seconds, and you can’t select this final level to practice it. You’ve got to play through the gray level every time you restart. The most exciting part? The music is replaced by an ominous ‘vacuum of space’ sound, and the game stops spinning. Your little character is shifting around a non-spinning white hexagon on a black background, then the white walls start creeping in. I always choke up when I hit the final level, then die on the first incoming walls. It will take awhile for me to clear this final level, but it’s so exciting to just get there!

    I have SH on my android phone, but can’t get used to the touchscreen controls. For me, it’s a nighttime front-of-the-PC session with a few beers.

    Cheers and great article!

    Reply
  4. keal says:

    I put a previous comment earlier this day from my phone at work, and now I’m at home. A few beers and almost ready to start up Super Hexagon. I hit your website to show my better half my intellectually stimulating comment on this page, and she goes ‘OOOH that’s the ones who made Splice. I love Splice!’

    Really? WOW I got your game in a Humble Bundle, I think the same one I got Super Hexagon in!

    Cool beyond words! When the royal princess isn’t looking, I’m going to pickup some of your other software and surprise her 🙂 After my SH smackdown tonight!

    Take care, and please keep the games coming! Splice is awesome!

    Reply

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