I’ve been playing a lot of Super Hexagon this week. Being the technological curmudgeon I am, I have refused to buy a smartphone in any way, shape, or form, and haven’t been able to play it.
As an example: a graduate level philosophy class in epistemology I attended at 10 AM in the morning was relatively fun…when class started. Arriving before class, all one could see was a bunch of people sitting around a table looking at phones. You’d imagine they would want to talk to each other or something, given their common interest in philosophy, but no; the cellphone was supreme above all else. A bunch of people staring into glowing bright screens continued to text, search the internet, or anything else to prevent that oh-so-taxing trial of “human interaction”, whatever that is. It was almost enough to make one scream.
So sorry Terry Cavanagh, but now I finally bought your game. Even though I pretty much loathed your last one, price tag and reputation convince me otherwise. And, surprise surprise, I’m actually enjoying myself. As soon as I can wrangle these controls (I don’t like any game that forces me to use the keyboard) and stop getting dizzy and disoriented when it suddenly rotates.
Still, the array of dizzying bright lights lend a certain charm to the whole experience, as does Chipzel’s chiptune soundtrack. It’s more like being in a danceclub than anything else; with a pounding baseline and some real variety in sound, its a constant motivation to go further AND keeps your heart pumping as you guide your tiny cursor through a seemingly infinite wall of death.
What do we have on offer here? Three songs? Just three? You’d be mistaken in thinking that’s a issue. The game has exactly 3 levels of difficulty, and three additionally fast versions of those same difficulties, so there’s no need for any more music. It’s perfect the way it is, and it perfectly ratchets up the tension. You’ll notice when playing the game that the visuals and the pacing actually line up with the music, regardless of when the track begins when you start.
“Courtesy”, for example, plays during the first level, Hexagon. It’s got a driving beat and some nice little progressions. Still, it’s not too fast or too slow for a first stage, although (like the game) it starts to show additional complexities, with multiple musical lines all engaging in taut reflex-based battles with each others. There’s moments of levity and (supposed) relaxation, but the music continues at the exact same pace nearly throughout. I like Chipzel because, unlike other chiptune artists, she doesn’t pretend that she’s a chiptune artist who’s really into electronica; this sounds like music for a game. Usually you just get some droning sound, a boring beat and off to the races, yet this is imbued with variety in a short three minute span.
“Otis” strikes a decidedly more hostile tone (well, if you don’t find this style of music harsh already). The alarms at the beginning should tell you something – things are about to go fast, and quickly. It’s also a shorter song, but much more happens in its two minute span! It pounds your head into submission with its constant beat, but it also integrates some swelling elements and a pretty rocking appregio line at about thirty-five seconds that continues to expand and develop. The best analogy I can use that describes this kind of music is a modern-style Bach fugue – there’s several musical lines in any one portion of these pieces, yet they all fit into the whole (provided they’re performed correctly). Even as they develop and form different musical ideas, they all happen to coalesce and make the sound more than the sum of its parts – literally, little bits and pieces of emulated Game Boy music chip sounds.
Lastly, we have the best track on the whole album – “Focus”. It’s exemplary precisely because it takes the relaxed atmosphere of the first, yet also engenders the rapidity of the second. Apparently, Cavanaugh didn’t want to overwhelm the user on the third and most difficult level – it requires focus and dedication to complete, for sure! It’s almost like a Zen-like state of calm exemplified in a song. It’s perfectly stable, not prone to tipping over, yet still experimenting and moving all around the place. It’s no wonder this was the song used in the trailer:
It also ends rather softly as the difficulties continue to increase, using minimalism as you reach the “climax”. Not everyone will hear that exactly, but I imagine the effect’s intentional.
When it comes to game music, I only require two things: that it is, in some sense, catchy, and that it works with the game. Super Hexagon’s soundtrack succeeds on both these counts. It’s pretty amazing what a little EP can do, even outside the context of the game. I’d call it a constant encouragement to strive on in the task; the music’s a driving force that makes the constant death, Game Over, and announcements from Jenn Frank (Begin) palatable. In a way, it puts everyone who plays it in the same mindset, making them able to complete the difficult trials Cavanaugh piles on with the speed and variation configurations of objects. As Philippians 2 says:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
As it in life, why not also in video games? Like worship music, any game music that puts us in the same motivation and state of mind seems fine by me. That’s why such music has been so memorable to this generation – not just for nostalgia, but a common shared experience of fun, challenge, and interaction. That’s something to celebrate and cherish. Hurrah to Chipzel for making me like an indie game, at least somewhat!