dontdie

The Zen of Super Hexagon

by on March 21, 2013   Twitter   Google+  

To an acquaintance or a passerby, I appear to be a stone man made of flesh. These persons have never seen me in an emotional state, or even witnessed me smile—let alone grin. These same people have also never seen me play video games.

You see, I am actually an emotional man whose videogames serve as a conduit for his emotional expressions. Here’s a brief insight into my gaming mentality: the game designers are my opponent; their game is a challenge, and I accept their challenge. For every challenge that hinders me, I yell guttural obscenities; for every challenge I overcome, I triumphantly yell…and then pleasantly reflect on what a great time I had. But I mostly swear.

Super Hexagon is one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played, and it seems to be the sole exception to my usual anger outbursts. This is a game whose lowest difficulty setting is hard and its highest Hardestest (before you unlock the remaining difficulty, which I have yet to accomplish); however, Super Hexagon is designed in a way that allows me not feel frustrated, but to adapt and go with the flow—as such, I find inner peace when playing Super Hexagon.

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Be Like Water

Super Hexagon is the latest project by VVVVVV creator, Terry Cavanagh. It features the same neon visuals as his prior project, VVVVVV; yet, the gameplay is vastly different. Where else VVVVVV is a gravity-defying platformer, Super Hexagon is a unique action game you could easily mistake for a hybrid of a rhythm game and puzzler. That’s because the game throws its obstacles at the player at an epilepsy-inducing rate. As a result, I felt as if my brain were being chiseled upon until it was left as a fine sculpture.

Super Hexagon has no story; you are a triangle, and you have a goal of avoiding solid shapes and lines by moving left and right in a circle. And that’s it. Super Hexagon is beautifully simplistic, and I have a difficult time growing angry with it—even if and when I (frequently) screw up.

Super Hexagon sets itself apart from other difficult games like the original Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden. Part of the reason is that unlike the previously mentioned games, Super Hexagon lacks a linear level design, or it at least creates the illusion of such. In a game like Ninja Gaiden, having a narrative and an obstacle hindering my progress is both rewarding and incredibly frustrating. Quality of story set aside, the cutscenes serve as a reward that seems like drinking room-temperature water after wandering a desert. The cost is the more I screw up in Ninja Gaiden, the longer I’m stuck in the muck of the same challenge; and the longer I stay, the more likely I am to rage quit.

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Super Hexagon, on the other hand, has repeatable challenge patterns; however, the game throws them at you randomly, depending on your current difficulty level. It is very possible for the game to throw the sections of the level at me that hinders me the most, and then it could ease me into gentler, high-score increasing patterns only to crush my hopes mere moments later. I may solve a problem once in Super Hexagon, only to have the same challenge thrown at me randomly and kill me—despite me having previously acquired the solution to the problem. Eventually, my mind is able to modify itself to align in perfect harmony with the game’s rhythm…for a couple dozen seconds or less if I’m lucky.

Super Hexagon also has a design that continues to flow; even after I mess up, I’m able to adjust and continue with the flow. The game is slowly melding it to its design. The neon colors at first present the risk of developing epileptic reactions; however, I later came to view it as the equivalent of a light show—and believe me, a light show is typically fascinating enough to warrant full focus.

The music provides a grand illusion that I’m playing in sync to the game’s rhythm. When I die, the music pauses but resumes where it left off before I messed up. In this sense, the game pushes my shoulder, and I learn to simply roll with its force and extend my own arm in retaliation.  It also helps that the soundtrack is filled with rave-worthy chip-tune glory.

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Rinse and Repeat

I’m not a person who is qualified to teach one how to obtain Zen and be one with the universe; however, I once read an excerpt from Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo, in which he (I’m paraphrasing here) compares the difficulty of learning a guitar to that of earning different color belts in martial arts. Rather than receiving a new belt, however, you start off with your pristine white belt, and the longer you practice and sweat the more soiled your belt becomes until it turns black after prolonged use. Then you wash the belt until it turns white and start anew when learning a new aspect to playing the guitar.

This reminds me of the levels in Super Hexagon. Super Hexagon’s difficulty levels could really be thought of as levels. The first level is appropriately named Hard. On my first try, I gallantly dived into the game and managed to score an impressive two seconds before I died. And on my second try, I somehow managed to score less than two seconds. The game swiftly taught me a stern lesson: I am very much a beginner who has yet to work hard enough to soil his belt.

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Be One With The Game

I’m not even close to completing Super Hexagon. I’m reminded of this with each difficulty level I complete. This is a game that will require me to master its levels again and again, and even then I’ll be bound to make some of the same mistakes. But that’s ok with me. In games like Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden, they’ll throw their challenges at you and then you’re done, so long as you have a good memory. Super Hexagon, on the other hand, throws its challenges at you that can be easily memorized, but manages to keep them varied in both speed and pattern; thus, it forces me to adapt. And that seems less frustrating to me.

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