Why Super Hexagon Should Be Game Of The Year

Earlier today, our own Luke Plunkett nominated Crusader Kings II for Kotaku 2012 game of the year, writing that it’s “the only game on this list that’s about sex and politics”.

Sounds like a man who hasn’t played Super Hexagon, right?

Or. Actually. No. Super Hexagon (iOS, Steam) isn’t about sex and politics. It’s not about zombies or wandering across the sand with strangers. It’s about spinning a little triangle around and through a contracting, swirling, psychedelic bathtub drain of a maze and hoping to not have it crash into the walls of that maze for… my goodness… can you survive for 15 seconds? 30 seconds? Can you manage an entire minute?

I know that Super Hexagon isn’t all that profound. Does this game tell you anything about its creator’s life or about the human condition? Not really. Does it pull at the heartstrings and evoke genuine emotion? Well, yes. It sure does. Those emotions being the exhilaration of survival, the pride of successfully applying what you’ve learned, the despair of defeat. You know, the stuff that movies and books can’t do. The stuff games can do so well.

That’s right, people. Super Hexagon puts the game back in “game.” Those who don’t vote for this perfect combination of sights, sounds and controls probably also have a terrific explanation for why Tetris shouldn’t have been game of the year back when it came out.

It lingers in my memory. It summons me to play it again and again. It’s great to play. It’s a tiny thing, sure. It’s a gem.

Several years ago, I angered friends and allies when I declared Desktop Tower Defense as Game of the Year over some game called BioShock. I liked BioShock and its brainy first-person underwater shooting a lot, but DTD was the game I couldn’t stop playing. It was the game I was late to a party for on the day I discovered it and the game I had to proselytize to everyone I met. It’s the game that obsessed me and, importantly, it was a game that was just about flawless. It was a simple and vexing. It encouraged the player to tinker and test its limits. It was easy to start, easy to re-start and tough to stop playing. Still, some folks told me I was wrong to pick it. DTD was a free browser game! It was just a trifle, a little amusement! Wasn’t rewarding it as GOTY over BioShock the equivalent of declaring an amusing street sign as the Best Thing I Read In 2007? Such is the plight of big games and little games, all vying for the same praise as the Kotaku Game of the Year.

The fact is that movies and TV have more in common with each other than many modern video games do. If we were, say, putting Super Hexagon in a GOTY deathmatch with Mass Effect 3 (hey, at least I could get to ME3‘s ending!) we’d be comparing a game I played by touching a piece of glass that I was carrying on the subway to a game I played with a controller in my hands while sitting on my living room couch; a game that has no characters vs. one that does; a game about spinning in a circle and a game about choosing the fate of the galaxy. Just about the only things they have in common are that a) we call them both video games and b) they have great lead female voice acting.

Yes, we live in a world in which small gamey games compete against story-filled virtual-tourism epics. Some years, I like to praise the latter and lose my mind with joy over the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood‘s of the world. Some years, I find a nice hybrid like Portal 2. And some years, like 2012, I think back to what I played and I decide: I’m going with the thing that put playing it first, the thing that made me want to dive into its system of rules and have a go at it again and again.

Here, have a look at Super Hexagon and tell me you’re not having fun just watching it.

Did you watch that? Are you still here? You resisted the urge to fire up the game?

Look, let’s take a look at the true yardstick for video game quality, the classic GamePro ratings scale:

Graphics – No doubt about it, Super Hexagon is mesmerizing. Not only does it have good graphics full of great colour combos, but I dare say it has the best possible graphics it needs or could have. It maxes out its graphics potential. It wears its clothes well. It’s drop-dead gorgeous. And it spins!

Sound – Was there a better bit of voice-acting in 2012 than Jenn Frank’s recitation of the shape names of the various levels of Super Hexagon? Sure: There was Jenn Frank’s just-encouraging-enough “Begin” at the beginning of a new round of this stupidly hard game. There was also her sorry-you-kinda-messed-up-there-but-you-can-do-better-I’m-sure-of-it “Game over” each time you failed. Yes, yes, The Walking Dead had some amazing voice-acting, too. But I’m not kidding when I say that I consider Frank’s as the most successfully-implemented voice-acting of the year. If you’re not a GOTY voter who cares about voice-acting, I submit the Super Hexagon soundtrack, and I defy you to be unmotivated to twirl through Super Hexagon again as soon as you hear it. It hits all the right notes (do they have notes in techno? Yes?) to drive you forward, to add even more drama to a game that feels plenty dramatic as is.

Control – Yep. We’ve got a winner here. The press-the-screen-to-rotate-but-don’t-press-too-long-or-you’ll-over-rotate-the-screen are the best controls not just for a touch-screen game this year, but I think for any game this year. What other 2012 game consistently feels so good to play?

Fun Factor – Insert the most possible excited GamePro face right here. That’s the one on the right:

I do appreciate that smaller games have an advantage. Tiny games have a better shot of getting it all right. Which is why… they never win big Game of the Year awards. Weird, no?

Sometimes — often — it’s nice to celebrate the bigger, necessarily sloppier works of video game creators. The people who made Far Cry 3 sure did try a lot more things than Super Hexagon creator Terry Cavanagh did in his. Looking back, Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance is a nearly perfect video game in a way that Skyrim is not on the PC in part because the scale of its makers’ ambitions was smaller and therefore more capable of being turned into a real thing we could play.

I am nevertheless struck by how right Super Hexagon is in any way I could measure it. To play it, listen to it, look at it, and think about reminds me how wonderful it is. It lingers in my memory. It summons me to play it again and again. It continues to delight. It’s great to play. It’s a tiny thing, sure. It’s a gem.

It’s my game of the year.

Also, Super Hexagon was Apple’s runner-up for Game of the Year 2012. Who doesn’t like telling Apple that they’re kind of dumb? The best way to do that is to say that it was no runner-up, but that it’s the winner!

Look, even the New York Times loves the game. (Um, it’s not like I wrote that blurb or anything.)

And if I haven’t convinced you yet, please just stare at this animated GIF.

Think of nothing else….

You are getting sleepy…

You will vote for Super Hexagon, fellow Kotaku editors, for Game of the Year. And you will only wake up when I snap my fingers.

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