Being “in the zone” is a curious experience. On the one hand, it’s enjoyable and satisfying, whatever the context — sports, games, music, writing — but on the other, it can be terrifying. The second you become aware of your own “in the zoneness”, panic strikes. Your pulse races and you worry that you will fall out of said zone any moment. You struggle to maintain your “in the zoneness” but as you become more and more stressed, you get more and more likely to make some sort of critical mistake until, eventually, you give up and go and do something else.
This is the feeling you are constantly battling against while playing Super Hexagon, a new iOS game from Terry “VVVVVV“ Cavanagh.
In Super Hexagon, you play the role of a teeny-tiny triangle attempting to not meet a sticky end against the various walls that are being inexplicably flung at it from outside the screen. Or perhaps it’s attempting to escape a maze without crashing into any walls. Or… well, it doesn’t really matter what it actually is. It’s an abstract, “pure gameplay” game in which the aim is simply to survive as long as possible. In essence, it’s similar to those “endless running” games that are so popular on mobile platforms right now, with the difference being that you’re rotating a shape around a point rather than jumping, ducking and sliding.
In your first couple of games of Super Hexagon, you’re likely to last a matter of seconds — five at most. This brutal level of difficulty will likely be enough to put many people off immediately, and that’s fine. Stick with it, though, and you’ll find yourself increasingly slipping into “the zone” as you survive just a tiny bit longer each time, your skills consistently improving as you learn to spot the various patterns that come your way — and how to deal with them.
Then, of course, you make the mistake of thinking “gosh, I’m doing quite well this time” and plough straight into a wall while 0.05 seconds away from beating your high score. Then, you will immediately tap the screen to try again and be unable to break this cycle for at least half an hour. (Consequently, I do not recommend playing Super Hexagon on the toilet.)
The simple, addictive, abstract nature of the game brings my love affair with Geometry Wars 2 to mind. Both are completely different types of game, of course, but both also have a lot in common. Both tend to have relatively short play sessions, both have an aesthetic so abstract that it stirs the imagination to a surprising degree, and both have a relatively low “penalty” for failure. Mess up and you’re back in the game within a second or two to try again.
This latter quality is one of the most important factors in making a game “addictive”. Super Meat Boy is another game that understands this — fail a level in that and simply by pressing a button, you’re trying again, with no loading breaks, no obtrusive “You Failed” screens or statistical breakdowns, just a tap of the “Retry” button and an immediate response. Geometry Wars 2 did this; Super Hexagon does this. Because it’s so simple and habit-forming to just tap the screen to retry after a failed attempt, you get locked into a compulsive cycle, determined that this time is the one, that this time you’ll be able to progress just a little bit further and hear Jenn Frank’s voice whispering the name of a shape with even more sides at you.
Super Hexagon is out now for just 69p. Grab it from the App Store.