Terry Cavanagh – iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS X
The Super Hexagon is a two-dimensional polygon, consisting of six equal sides of a bound area, with six equal internal angles, their sum totalling 720 degrees. It is the area of intersection of an equilateral triangle and its inverse as transformed through its own centre point. And at its heart lies an ocean so infinitely deep and still that it must surely be a mirror to the human soul. It’s just simple geometry, guys!
With Super Hexagon, Cavanagh has crafted such an elegantly designed and exquisitely compulsive game that it can convey a sense of genuine profundity. More importantly, it’s also really bloody fun. Starting it up, it’s a bit reminiscent of the first time you played Tetris – conceptually simple, but with intricacies that you pick up on very quickly. Gameplay consists of rotating a small arrow around the outside of a hexagon, while lines and shapes approach quickly from every angle. You have to manoeuvre the arrow, left and right, through gaps in the oncoming barrage, while music and colours pulse with a video-arcade intensity. Recognising recurring patterns in gaps is key, and certain ones can have the personality of Tetris’ puzzle pieces. There’s the Serial 180°, as coveted as the legendary Long Block. And then the dreaded Unidirectional Stepwise Shift, as unwelcome as a Square Block when there’s just no room.
Whatever’s thrown at you, though – you will fail. You have to fail. Well, at least a few hundred times, anyway. Lasting for one minute is the arbitrarily determined “success” point, but ten seconds should be good enough at first. Of course, handing out Game Overs after just a few moments should be a recipe for frustration, but this is where Super Hexagon‘s brilliance reveals itself. Subtle encouragements – rapid restarts, semi-randomisation of obstacles, the music’s cumulative intensity through several rounds – mean you’re never dejected by loss, only hopeful for upcoming victory. Super Hexagon teaches us that failure is just another form of opportunity. It’s true, folks: the human heart is a six-sided shape. (Note: if you literally have a hexagonal heart, please submit yourself for medical testing, so that we may study and learn from you)
Emily Short – Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but mightier still, according to Counterfeit Monkey, is the Tipp-Ex brush. This is a text adventure that exploits the medium to a degree rarely seen.
Set in the linguistics-obsessed island nation of Anglophone Atlantis, the game hands players a letter-remover with which to manipulate and alter objects. In need of transportation? No problem – just rip that chart from the wall, lop of the “h” and “t”, and you’re on your way. It’s a genius conceit that is consistently put to great use, and has you reading through the story on several levels simultaneously. It’s a tale of subterfuge, piracy and orthographic corruption that breezily entertains even as it sets up open-ended word puzzles. Things only get more delightful as more complex object-manipulation tools become available. So many games let you battle off foes with deadly blades, but sometimes it’s better to just lose the “s” and indulge in a bit of wordplay.
The Cat Lady
Harvester Games – PC
Susan Ashworth is The Cat Lady. Frumpy and middle-aged, we join her as she attempts suicide. Before she is revived and wakes in hospital, we descend into her unsettling subconscious, meeting an old woman who tells Susan she can live happily again if she seeks revenge on five strangers. From the outset, the causes of Susan’s spiralling depression are a mystery to her and the player, but we uncover the causes of her chronic malaise together. There is constant doubt whether characters and events are ‘real’ or paranoid delusions and drug-induced hallucinations. As a side-scrolling adventure game, The Cat Lady is mechanically very basic, but shows how much, emotionally, can be done with so little. The puzzles are solved logically, almost with a grim certainty, mirroring Susan’s new-found determination to fight for her own sanity and give her life meaning again. The sombre tone and jagged paper-cut-out visuals can begin to grate when they make it feel like redemption is not possible. But you do get to play as one of Susan’s cats.
Words: John Hyland and Leo Devlin