From the time they were invented, video games have relied on a player’s reflexes as the basic point of contention. Think about it: Tetris was about how quickly you reacted to the incoming tile. Pong made you move rapidly to block the ball. Shooters tested who was the fastest gun in town. Your reflexes are paramount to how good you get at video games.
Octagon takes this up a notch, seeking to make a game that rapidly demands input, failing which it’s game over. But can your reflexes alone get you through this?
What’s Octagon All About?
In Octagon, you are put inside a stark white world with an octagonal tunnel going off into the distance. In parts, the tunnel is broken–eventually getting to a point where it’s more broken slabs and less tunnel. At the center of the screen is a little octagon.
It behaves like a ball, but the octagonal shape gives it a little more character (and frankly, makes it look cooler). The octagon is on the move, going straight forward. It’s your job to turn it left, right and flip it to make sure the octagon reaches the finish line and doesn’t fall off. While the movement is made by the octagon, it stays in the centre of your screen so the effect appears like the world is spinning.
Graphics & Sound
Developer Lukas Korba complements the simple premise of his game with fiendishly clever graphics. The world of platforms around the octagon keep changing between the eight colours you see in the app’s logo, with gradients between the colours transitioning them from one to the next. As the octagon races along at full speed, the changing colours and spinning world combine to create a cool psychedelic effect–the only thing missing is a guy with long hair, shaggy beard and a floral t-shirt slowly muttering, “Groovy, dude!”
The background score will make sure it keeps your blood pumping with its electronica beats. The original soundtrack by Sqeepo goes perfectly with the game, but gets repetitive very quickly. Unfortunately, each level comes with one soundtrack and so as you replay the level (and boy, you’ll be replaying it many times), it gets annoying to listen to the same thing over and over. Putting the songs through shuffle could have been a wiser move, perhaps.
To move the octagon, you have two sets of controls. You can swipe left and right to shift it one step left or right respectively, and swipe up to have it jump to the ceiling. Alternately, you can tap the left or right sides of the screen to go in that direction, and swipe up to jump.
The controls are the biggest problem with Octagon. If you use swipes, it doesn’t always register the right swipe. The sensitivity to angles is very acute, which means that if you were to swipe diagonally between ‘up’ and ‘right’, there’s no saying which direction your ball is going to go. And such small deviation are bound to happen on a small screen. It’s especially frustrating when you knew you went for the right gesture and Octagon registered the wrong one, making you lose all your progress to the point.
If you use the tap controls, the experience is too inconsistent to be fun. With swipes, you can be using a single finger for all your movements. With taps, you hold the phone so that both thumbs are in play; and so swiping up becomes an unnatural movement, not going well with the taps.
Reflexes or Memory?
The inconsistent controls aside, Octagon is an extremely challenging game. It isn’t easy to get from one end to the other without at least a few tries on each level, and that’s only in the initial ones. As you progress, the levels get tougher and tougher.
Unfortunately, it hits a point where Octagon stops being purely about your reflexes and starts being a bit about your memory. Each level has one consistent design, so eventually, with enough retries, you start remembering what move you need to make next rather than reacting to the environment. There are still reflexes involved (you can’t remember whole levels, after all), but by level 7 or 8, it becomes the lesser of the two skills needed.
It’s a pity and I wish there was a way by which Octagon would introduce even just one or two new elements in a level every time you play it. You needn’t redesign the whole level, but just knowing that I can’t rely on my memory to get me through would have made me more attentive than I was.
Share Your Success
When you do finish a level though, whether it’s through reflexes or memory, you get an immensely satisfying feeling. And it’s a triumph that must be shared (or rubbed into the faces of your friends), so Octagon offers a video of your last run that you can save and share on social networks. It’s a small thing, but it’s pretty cool.
The simplicity of the game is Octagon’s biggest draw and it delivers there in spades. It’s easy to pick up (really, my 5-year-old nephew plays it), it looks cool without being overwhelming, and it’s got no in-app purchases or other elements to muck things up. It’s you against the game, at its purest.
The downside of Octagon is that while it starts off as a test for your reflexes, it slowly turns into a test for your memory. Not that the latter is bad, but it’s not as engrossing as the former. And when you add the frustrating controls, it kind of spoils the experience.
Still, it’s not so bad that you should skip it. In fact, for a quick game when you are waiting for someone, Octagon is perhaps the most frustratingly fun thing you can do.