I am sitting on a plane and my kneecap is sticky with Sierra Mist because the affable Iranian-American webdev to my right spilled his soda. The Staten Island lawyer to my left is using her hands — wiry tan hands, with an enormous diamond on the left — to prop up a head that houses the warring factions of Hangover, Airsickness and Xanax. They’re both on their way out of the spiritual and physical wasteland of Las Vegas, and they spend the first half of the flight describing money lost, drugs taken, and how, for a vacation, it wasn’t a particularly relaxing one.
Sadists, I think. What sort of people would put themselves through that sort of self-destructive gauntlet of mental and animal rawness? They seem like Good People. I shrug my headphones on tighter and stuff my nose back into a pocket-sized gauntlet of mental and animal rawness, Super Hexagon.
Super Hexagon is a punishing experience. It’s hard. Your first game of Super Hexagon will be like opening Ulysses to a page around the middle and being asked to explain what it’s all about – should you appear unable to grasp Joyce’s intent within the first few seconds, the book slams shut.
You’re just not going to “get it,” not until you strain your perception to the prescribed limits, and the ability to do that – to speak the game’s language – is a function of experience. Not repetition, although that will bring you far, but experience: years of experience decoding videogames and writing your own perceptual shorthand, years stringing direct cables between your problem-solving cortex and the Developer’s clandestine stratagem. You can’t just react; you have to think like Terry Cavanagh. (Not that you’re going to beat his high score, though.)
Like the games of yore — like Naked Lunch — Super Hexagon deals in abstractions and symbolism, and either your brain operates on that particular frequency or it doesn’t. Ok that sounds dramatic: I don’t mean that some Chosen Few have exclusive access to understanding this game. Hexagon is a popular title. If you’re on this website, you’ll get it. I just mean that some background in decoding the language of games is necessary if you’re going to translate this cavalcade of neon into a series of challenges, puzzles with goals defined clearly enough that a split-second is all you need to solve them.
If you don’t speak the language — if you’re staring sidelong at this ridiculous person on the airplane with palms sweating and his nose all lit up and flashing — the game just looks obscene. It looks like Drugs. Epilepsy inducing shapes that couldn’t possibly have a purpose. Why, you’d ask yourself, would anyone waste their free time like that?
Las Vegas was a stupid parallel. Forget about that. Super Hexagon is a hyper-dense T. S. Eliot poem, a deceptively compact nugget of mad abstraction. Like poetry, Hexagon rewards a singular combination of intelligence and instinct, a marriage of life-long spacial-awareness training and the animal ability to slip into the pureness of reflex. It stretches your brain like taffy but when you do penetrate to the gooey core — and it is possible — you’ll feel pretty damn good about yourself.