Super Hexagon nails the formula for player addiction

Super Hexagon is a new iOS game from Terry Cavanagh, developer of popular indie PC game VVVVVV. It’s available now as a Universal download for $0.99 — 66% off its usual price in celebration of its launch — from the App Store.

Super Hexagon’s concept is incredibly simple. Players control a small triangle that orbits a shape — initially the titular Hexagon — in the center of the screen. Pressing on the left side of the screen rotates the triangle around the shape anticlockwise, while pressing on the right moves it clockwise. The player’s aim is simply to avoid crashing in to any of the “walls” which constantly close in on the player from the outside of the screen, pulsing roughly in time with the beat of the thumping chiptune/electronica soundtrack. The shape in the middle occasionally changes from its initial hexagon form, requiring the player to adapt to new arrangements of incoming walls.

Progress through the game and high scores are measured by how many seconds the player managed to survive. At predefined milestones, the player “levels up” and is rewarded by the disembodied voice of games writer Jenn Frank whispering the name of a shape with an additional number of sides. Beginning at “point” status, the player progresses through line, triangle, square, pentagon and finally hexagon, after which the game mode is considered “completed” and a “hyper” version opens up.

There are three difficulty levels available to the player at the outset of the game, dubbed Hexagon, Hexagoner and Hexagonest, with the descriptions Hard, Harder and Hardest provided to give players an idea of what they are getting into. The game initially appears to be unreasonably difficult, with most players’ first attempts lasting no longer than two or three seconds as they become accustomed to the on-screen chaos. Those who persist, however, will find themselves gradually improving and inching ever-closer to the elusive “Hexagon” status.

Super Hexagon is an acquired taste, for sure, and the monstrous difficulty is likely to put some players off before they have had enough time to properly engage with the game. Despite the high level of challenge, however, Super Hexagon does not make failure an inconvenience for the player — rather, a simple tap of the screen is all it takes to try again, allowing one to become easily enraptured by a compulsive cycle of trying “just once more” to better their score.

It’s this aspect that makes it clear that Cavanagh truly understands what makes a quality mobile game. Individual play sessions should be short and easy to fit into one’s daily life, but provide enough incentive to return to allow for more protracted sessions if the player desires. There is no progress limiting or throttling tied to monetization — players pay once for the game and are then able to play as little or much as they desire in a single session. While this means that the only income stream for the game is via its “cost of admission,” it means that players will not become frustrated by running out of “energy” or feeling obliged to purchase upgrades in order to remain competitive. It is a test of pure skill, not who has the deepest pockets.

Many mobile developers bemoan the fact that making a paid app makes it very difficult to be noticed, but Super Hexagon is a game that bucks that trend. By providing a distinctive, quality experience rather than a cynical clone of an existing title, Super Hexagon has successfully managed to build up a considerable amount of momentum through word of mouth alone. Mainstream video game sites are covering the game as much as dedicated mobile-focused outlets; people are talking about it and comparing scores on social networks; even the involvement of Frank, who has over 3,000 Twitter followers, could be seen as a form of “promotion” for the game. In short, it is evidence that a quality game does not need to rely entirely on the App Store and its questionable approach to discoverability to enjoy success — word of mouth and “uniqueness” is important, too.

Super Hexagon is currently ranked at No. 47 in Top Paid Apps on iPhone and No. 18 in Top Paid Apps on iPad. It’s also ranked at No. 31 in Top Paid iPhone Games and No. 12 in Top Paid iPad Games. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.