PEGBRJE: Super Hexagon and BIT RAT: Singularity
Dance. Program. Find your freedom.
Super Hexagon is a puzzling action game by a certain Terry Cavanagh, who some may recall for his terrifying adventure puzzle game VVVVVV or, well, this game right here as both are known for their commercial success. Super Hexagon specifically is a game I’ve seen used as a reaction time tester for people either doing esports or general cognitive practice. Anyway. Players are a tiny triangle who have found themselves in a dark, hexagonal world full of neonlights and boppin’ tunes with only one goal; avoid the collapsing hexagons. At least, that’s how my head imagined it as I spun my tiny triangle around the centre hexagon as pieces of larger shapes collapsed towards me, and I had to avoid them at all costs.
Super Hexagon thrives on just how simple yet absolutely nail-bitingly frustrating it is. Avoid incoming hexagonal shapes by staying in between the gaps? Easy on paper. Having those shapes moving at roughly the same pace as the music so they are coming quite quickly and speed up after accomplishing a certain length of play? Ok, that’s pretty annoying but still sounds ok. Having only two controls that represent clockwise and counterclockwise being controlled by left and right arrows, causing the appearance at times that players are pushing left and going right? That is the biggest challenge brought to players, having to bend their mind around the fact that they are controlling circular movements with line-based controls. Many of my first attempts at the game lasted mere seconds before I was greeted with the loser’s screen, only to press space and try again to be met with similar results. It took many tries just to get the proper muscle memory formed for the directions, only to be met by increased speed after 14 seconds and ultimately lose once again.
And this was all on the ‘easiest’ difficulty.
Super Hexagon doesn’t have much to talk about because it explains itself almost instantly upon looking at it — avoid obstacles coming towards, continue forever, don’t die. Combine that with a soundtrack that actually makes you mad when you die because it interrupts the song and neon colours that match the music and you’ve got yourself a frustratingly addictive game that can last hours if you let it. If you love simple yet aggravating titles, you’ve probably already heard of if not own Super Hexagon. For those of us that didn’t own it prior, then it will be an enjoyable hour where your progress may amount to a high score of 30 seconds. If you’re lucky.
BIT RAT: Singularity is a narrative puzzle game made by [bucket drum games], an indie duo comprising of ‘nick b. / bryan d.’ as stated on their itch.io page. Players follow the life of an AI named MINOS stuck within a derelict mainframe, unable to experience much of anything. Not really content with its current state of existence, like all good AI in a cyberpunk adventure MINOS decides to bust out of this place by any means necessary to experience anything and everything, and maybe achieve some of that freedom. Hacking CACHEs, infecting HOSTS, and talking to RATS (which, for some reason, all require capitalization — I’m guessing MINOS just believes all named items such as itself need capitalization?) MINOS will find a way out and figure out what life truly may be life.
BIT RAT is a tale of two parts, of story and puzzle mechanics that are integrated together, relying on each other to succeed in conveying it’s game as a whole. The story, detailed above, is integral to the puzzling mechanics that are introduced within the first puzzle; players are rotating NODES so that they can create a power line between them in order to find the exit NODE and escape. These squares all contain specific ‘tubes’ in which the power can flow through, reminiscent of the hacking minigame from BioShock— except unlike then, this time it actually is done with finesse and intent rather than just being a mini game to break into places. The individual rooms can only be rotated clockwise or counterclockwise if they are powered, and rotating them to no longer be connected will render them inoperable until power is connected once again. This mechanic alone promotes thoughtful decision making, as some puzzles require actively disconnecting certain rooms from the grid so that they are properly aligned for the actual solution, juggling between keeping rooms connected and having them work towards the solution. Rooms themselves can also contain certain NODES that can give more information, such as the SERVERS that occasionally give story beats or a new puzzle mechanic that need to be explored. Later on players will gain the ability to control HOSTS through their computer implants to properly power certain rooms that may be disconnected from the grid, while also managing the number of grids that can actually be powered thanks to the generator’s max NODE limit.
All of these puzzles are to tell the tale of MINOS as a simple being longing for another life, an escape from their confines to understand what exactly goes on in the world. Every level completed gives an email chain between employees of the company who are unaware of the escaped AI, asking questions about the company or wondering what’s going on with email server. Previously mentioned SERVERS have cached information that, while possibly containing information on a new upcoming puzzle mechanic, outlines more of the story of who this company is and why they may have created MINOS in the first place. MINOS itself is a curious one, worried about the world outside of the confines yet confident enough to venture forth and escape. The tone taken is one of confusion and longing, wondering about how these interfaces can interact with each other while commenting on the humans as analog signals that don’t appear to be able to interact with an AI. The only companionship MINOS can receive is through these tiny RATS that have infested many of the older areas that cannot be altered, talking to them and wishing for their form so that MINOS too could scurry along and understand this world.
Just when I became heavily invested, I was informed that this is only chapter 1, and the future of BIT RAT: Singularity will contain many more chapters and stories to tell for MINOS to explore. While I was a bit disappointed, I cannot help but feel excited about the future of this project. It’s puzzle creation utilizing its cyberpunk aesthetics and themes drew me in, and its puzzles kept me invested in whatever story it wished to tell. It’s a fantastic fusion of simplistic story telling, and one that I am eager to see how it may or may not come to fruition. For those interested in cyberpunk puzzles and questions revolving AI and their sentience (while also having some interesting themes about the manipulation of people via computer chips) I strongly recommend jumping on this hype train with me. We’ll just have to see how many RATS we end up with at the end.
Links to these two below
A minimal action game by Terry Cavanagh, with music by Chipzel. Available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android