Today I won’t be writing about music, or sports, but another hobby I sometimes pursue in my free time.
Specifically, about two games that I think are absolute masterpieces of minimal game design. These two games are VVVVVV and Super Hexagon, both by Irish Indie game developer Terry Cavanaugh.
VVVVVV released in January 2010 for Mac OSX and Windows. I picked it up for about 70 cents that December during Steam’s Christmas sale. I’ve played it for hours since then and beaten it a number of times. The game is very minimal and simple.
You’re the captain, Captain Viridian, of a starship that gets transported into an odd dimension and your crew are all missing and you must find them all. The game is made in 2D using graphics reminiscent of the Commodore 64.
The mechanics are also very simple. You can move forwards or backwards and the space bar reverses the direction of gravity. Using only these simple controls you have to complete a series of puzzles of varying difficulties that involve clever use of physics. Avoiding spikes and enemies, relying upon moving platforms and switching gravity at just the right second, bouncing off of elastic surfaces, sliding through quickly changing openings, and more are all combined in ways to make the game challenging and super addictive. Every time you find a crew member you have to lead them to a network of transporters to get them back to the ship, and every crew member has a different mechanic for how they operate leading to all kinds of unique challenges to get them through the puzzles alive.
The entire game is brilliantly backed by a masterful chiptune soundtrack from Swedish composer/producer Souleye (Magnus Pålsson). I own the soundtrack and have probably listened to it more than I have played the game. The game can get quite hard and many puzzles must be solved through a process of trial and error. Luckily checkpoints are abundant. This game perfectly balances being difficult while remaining fun and never becoming frustrating. It can often be had for cheap on Steam and is now also available on the Nintendo DS. You also get a level editor and custom levels that allow for increased replayability. Seriously, check this game out if you ever want to have some quick fun.
Cavanaugh’s commercial follow up to VVVVVV is an incredibly fast paced, reflex based twitch game called Super Hexagon. This game initially released for iOS in 2012 and was followed by versions for OSX, Windows, Linux, Android, and Blackberry. This game also uses minimal mechanics and understated graphics.
You control a small triangle in the middle of a pulsing and flashing screen while bars fly in towards you and form geometric shapes with only one opening you can pass through. If you touch a bar the level resets. Sounds simple enough, but this game is also much deeper and more challenging than it appears on first appearance. There are 3 levels: Hexagon, Hexagoner, and Hexagonest. Each also has a faster, more difficult ‘Hyper’ version. All you have to do to ‘beat’ a level is last 60 seconds on it, though the timer keeps running. After sixty seconds the level color palette changes and in another 60 seconds it will seamlessly become Hyper mode. The game ends after surviving for 60 seconds on Hexagonest, but the true ending can only be achieved by surviving 60 seconds or more on Hyper Hexagonest after having already lasted at least 60 seconds on every other level on both normal and hyper modes. I have came within 7 seconds of the true ending when I died, and haven’t been able to get any closer since. One of these days I’m sure I will.
This game, like VVVVVV, is brilliant in how challenging and addictive it is for so simple a premise, truly something Terry Cavanaugh excels at in games like this. Super Hexagon began life as a game he made in just 12 hours as part of a special challenge. The full version is more fleshed out and has music from the brilliant Northern Irish chiptune/EDM producer Chipzel. This one can also be had for cheap and is definitely worth grabbing on a smartphone or a computer, but be warned, you may spend hours of your life to beat a game that only takes 7 minutes to fully complete.