Super Hexagon in a nutshell

Super Hexagon is a game by Terry Cavanagh, based on an earlier version made during a game jam.

The idea is pretty simple: the player controls an arrowhead, moving it (radially) around the center of the screen, while trying to avoid incoming obstacles.

Despite the simplicity of the concept, the genius of Super Hexagon is in its design.

The game is essentially an endless runner, something that may not be obvious at first instance. Usually, endless runners are sidescroller where movement is constrained to jumping and ducking/sliding; instead, here we have a top-down view with movement restricted to a circle around the center of the screen. Also, although some endless runners feature a checkpoint system, Super Hexagon is less merciful and requires the player to start over from scratch.

The game is divided into 3 difficulties, each one with its own hyper mode, resulting in a total of 6 levels. Each playthrough is randomly generated, so the key to succeed is in learning how to move through the different types of obstacles.

Super Hexagon gameplay

The game requires two basic skills from the player: quick reflexes and to telegraph. Telegraphing is a term used in sports defined as «[to] unintentionally alert an opponent to one’s immediate situation or intentions»; in this case, it is the ability to detect what’s coming next. The fast-paced nature of the game requires the player, at least for first difficulties, to think one step ahead and plan the next movement taking the available information into account. Later, because Hyper modes are extremely fast-paced, telegraphing is more difficult to pull off and success depends more on quick reflexes.

Death is very common. Precision is key to survive in Super Hexagon; a matter of pixels can result in failure.

However, some design decisions help the player:

  1. Death collisions are only checked against the tip of the player. This means that, if lucky, not all mistakes are mortal.
  2. The level is divided into different sectors or areas, each one limited to each face of the hexagon in the center of the screen. These areas are colored in a stripe-pattern; visually, the player can quickly use this information to determine where to move into.
  3. While the camera movement makes the challenge more difficult (it can be distracting when trying to calculate for how long to touch the screen), it certainly helps to see the upcoming obstacles and open spots in time.

Regarding the controls, the game is available on smartphones (touchscreen) and desktops (keyboard / gamepad). In a game where controls are so essential, I was worried that one version would be superior to the other; it wouldn’t be fair to give a certain subset of players advantage over the other. So far, both touchscreen and keyboard haven been similar in such regard. The difference arises from a reason other than the controls: the screen.

The truth is: the mobile and desktop versions of Super Hexagon are not equal. In smartphones, the need to touch the screen means that a certain part of the screen will be occluded, limiting the detection of incoming open gaps and obstacles. This doesn’t affect desktops because input and output are not shared under the same space. However, desktops tend to have big screens and the player needs to keep track of a larger amount of space, so it’s distracting. Nevertheless, the overall experience is the same although I still prefer the mobile version.

On a separate note, the music works well with the game and is rarely uncomfortable. I don’t know yet if there’s a correlation between it and the obstacles but it certainly helps you synchronize with the game.

Super Hexagon may be simple but represents one of the best games around. It is unforgiving but, at the same time, has a clear and unambiguous design. The player is responsible for the failures, not the game, and this fuels the desire to reach an even higher score and not rage-quit in the process. Time flies when playing, making this a great game for idle moments and busy waiting.

Did you like the game? Why? Why not? Leave your opinions in the comments.

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