Twitch games—those titles that call on the player to react instinctually to fast-paced, hectic situations— have been around a long time. Pac-Man, most shooters, rhythm games, and arguably the majority of the NES’s back catalog could be classified as “twitchy.” So although Terry Cavanaugh’s Super Hexagon didn’t invent a completely new genre upon its release last year, it did perhaps introduce a subcategory of twitch gaming distilled down to its absolute essentials: minimal input (only two buttons); throbbing, driving visuals and audio; and challenge requiring the player has superhuman reflexes. A recent addition to this subgenre is Pivvot. It follows the same basic gameplay formula as its predecessor but it’s not quite as addictive. However, it is solid, challenging, and appropriately frustrating.
You control a ball on a stick speeding along a winding pathway peppered with an assortment of shapes. Just like Super Hexagon, you can only move left and right, which you do by touching either side of the screen. The ball can only pass safely through the pathway. If it hits any of the shapes, it’s game over. These shapes come in a wide variety of different arrangements and the pathway alters to accommodate them. It starts simple with spiky protrusions that stick out from one side of the path and move onto more complicated shapes like circles that the path wraps around or a series of sashaying dots. Your goal is to formulate strategies to avoid all these shapes. The ones that only occupy one side of the path mean you just need to be on the opposite side at the right time. The circular ones require you to perform deft 360s. For crisscrossing dots, all you can do is hope your hand-eye coordination is up to snuff.
Pivvot eases you into each challenge. The first mode available is Voyage, in which you have to dodge four of one shape before moving onto the next. Following that, you have to dodge a semi-random combination of four of the shapes you’ve already learned how to circumnavigate. Every four shapes is a checkpoint, so, if you die or quit, you’ll start from the last one. The game also keeps track of how many times you’ve died, encouraging attempts at flawless runs.
Endless mode dishes out every shape you’ve learned in Voyage in sequential order, speeding up after every four that you dodge as a timer counts upward. You’re obviously meant to keep playing to beat your best time, but you only need to hit 100 seconds to unlock Expert Voyage and Expert Endless, which are just like the previous modes but with more insidious shapes to dodge.
Pivvot also includes some smart features. Like Super Hexagon, a simple tap starts the game again after a game over, meaning you can get right back into playing with barely a break. Also, if you pause and resume, you get a three-second countdown before being launched back into the fray. The options menu also comes with three levels of graphic quality. This is absolutely integral because if you experience any slowdown whatsoever in a game of this type, it’s effectively unplayable.
Pivvot’s graphics do the minimalistic thing well—all neon shapes pulsating and flashing to the rhythm of the music, which consists of a few tracks of decent-enough techno. One song sounds not entirely unlike Coburn’s “We Interrupt This Programme,” which certainly isn’t a bad thing. The other tracks aren’t quite as catchy and the Expert one seems a bit too laid back to accompany the intense visuals.
For such a minimalistic approach, there are some noteworthy details. Your ball leaves behind a wispy trail wherever it goes. There’s also an explosion of particles when you die and, at the same time, the music track slows down and then stops like the record player’s been shut off.
My only issue with Pivvot is that I believe it would do better if it were less forgiving and less protective of its unlockable modes. Super Hexagon starts off with three insanely difficult modes, each of which cycles through various shapes thrown at you in random order. Pivvot has random modes but they’re only there for high score purposes and don’t unlock anything. In the modes you must complete to unlock harder modes, the shapes appear in the same order every time. This is hugely frustrating if you get stuck, like I did on Endless Expert mode. I had to play the same basic 30 seconds of gameplay so many times I lost count. Berserk mode, in which spiky balls are constantly spawned at random all over the place, unlocked when I finally hit 100 seconds but I’m so burned out from Endless Expert that I don’t have much interest in it.
It may seem unfair to judge Pivvot so heavily in contrast to Super Hexagon, but it’s truly just a different take on the exact same type of gameplay. However, it’s in no way a rip-off as Pivvot feels addictively challenging in its own unique way. It’s solid and it’s got a nice presentation. But with Super Hexagon, no matter how many times I lost, the unforgiving, randomly-generated challenge just spurred me on further. With Pivvot’s semi-linear progression and insistence on withholding some of its harder modes, I feel challenged, but I’m also getting kind of bored.